Every time I harvest ground nuts, I feel like giggling. Picture digging just below the soil surface and finding a golf ball to tennis ball size brown skinned tuber. To it is attached a string. Follow the string 3 inches to where it is attached to another ball. 3 inches more, another ball and so on until you have an edible garden necklace. I've never seen anything like it, but surprisingly, it's native all up and down the East Coast. For the lucky scavenger, small groundnuts or Apios americana can be found beneath delicate vines on the forest edge. The selected variety we're growing (likely a cultivar of a past LSU breeding program) with the benefit of full sun in garden soil, sizes up much more.
But what is one to do with this curious tuber? Their other common name, American Potato Bean, is a good hint. Use it like a potato. By this time of year, the last of our Irish potatoes are starting to wrinkle and send out sprouts. Fortunately, the end of Irish potato season coincides with peak flavor of the sweet potatoes. But sometimes something without the sweetness of sweet potatoes, something closer to an Irish potato is more what we want. Groundnuts are starting to fill this niche as our 'winter potato.'
It's still new to us so we haven't tried all the suggested preparations. We've been enjoying them simply boiled in salt water, although they'd probably be even better with a little more done to spruce them up. We've been boiling them with the skins on then peeling. After boiling and peeling they can be enjoyed as is or mashed. Groundnuts are more dense and probably drier than Irish potatoes, closer to a russet than some of the waxy type Irish potatoes we grow. Extra cream, almost always a good thing, seems like something we should recommend, but groundnuts are still quite new to us. We tried baking them, and they seemed to dry out far too much, so based on our limited trials we definitely would recommend against baking, although we've seen suggestions on the internet for roasting, so maybe with attention to the right details they'd be good baked/roasted.
On the list for us to try yet are fries -- we haven't deep fried any yet, but we're hopeful they'll make outstanding French fries -- chips, and drying them for flour. We would describe their taste as nutty, earthy, and sweeter than potatoes. If you want to experiment with us, or if you're already familiar with this uncommon food, let us know the results of your own experiments in the kitchen.