A Southern delicacy, boiled peanuts will be
Ah, the humble goober. For those who live north of the Mason-Dixon line, it seems like a straightforward snack, even with its variations. Salted peanuts in the shell or otherwise lead the list. You've got your cocktail peanuts, with their papery red skin, and several consistencies of peanut butter, from smooth to crunchy to break-your-teeth rocky.
For most snackers, that's about it. Except for smooth peanut butter, peanuts equal hard and salty.
That all changed for this unsuspecting Northerner on a fateful trip through the South a couple of decades ago.
We were cutting through a back road in Georgia with a minivan full of hungry, yappy kids and nary a restaurant in sight. As the miles passed on the twisty two-lane, the growling grew louder — and that was just our stomachs.
Rounding a corner in a pine forest, we came upon a souvenir shop/gas station/fireworks stand/antique store. Just inside the door of the gas station part of the enterprise was a big, simmering Crock-Pot. A cardboard sign, hand-lettered in red crayon, said it all.
The man working the register sized us up quickly.
"Y'all ever had these before?"
"They're a little different than what you might be used to."
He grabbed a strainer and fished out enough peanuts to fill the lunch bag-sized paper sack.
Back in the van, the non-driving parent shook a few out of the sack. The shells were a little soggy but recognizable. When we cracked them open, a few drops of brine ran down our hands and forearms. The nuts inside seemed a tad soft.
I popped one in and bit down, expecting the familiar crunch. All I got was a watery squish.
It wasn't exactly a spit-it-out moment, but it was close. The salt taste was there, but unlike roasted peanuts, it took a backseat to the flavor of the nut itself.
We were back on the foodless forest road, so the choice was simple: Either go hungry or try another. Then another. We kept cracking and eating as the brine dribbled down our hands and wrists.
A funny thing happened on the way to the forearm — those mushy peanuts started tasting pretty good.
We wayward travelers had just discovered what Southerners had known for years: there's more than one way to gobble a goober.
What Nutty Festivals
The history of the boiled peanut goes back at least 150 years, according to numerous histories of the legume. Many accounts peg the beginning of its popularity to the Civil War, when under-supplied Confederate troops found that a potful of boiled peanuts kept them going when food was scarce. Other histories trace the dish back to Africa.
Boiled peanuts are alive and steaming today in their many natural habitats — from Southern gas-station Crock-Pots to roadside stands to restaurants. The nuts are "green" peanuts, meaning they have not been roasted or allowed to dry out.
While roadside stands are a go-to source for this delicacy, grander venues await the autumn road tripper — the numerous boiled peanut festivals held throughout the South.
One of the best guides to these events is www.BoiledPeanutWorld.com. It lists festivals throughout the South, as well as links to recipes, growing tips, and even a tribute to George Washington Carver, the foremost peanut scientist of the early 20th century.
According to the website, Carver spoke at the first peanut festival held in Dothan, Ala., in 1938.
Dothan is the epicenter of goober culture, proudly proclaiming itself the "Peanut Capital of the World." It will hold its National Peanut Festival Nov. 4-13. The town says that half of all peanuts produced in the U.S. are grown within 100 miles of Dothan.
The peanut became a critically important crop in the South early in the 20th century after the boll weevil ravaged cotton fields from Texas to Florida. Alabama farmers who converted their fields to peanuts went from desperation to prosperity. A statue to the boll weevil stands today in Enterprise, Ala.
Another peanut celebration of note will be held Sept. 10 from noon to 5 p.m. — the fifth annual Bluffton Boiled Peanut Festival.
Bluffton, S.C., a Low Country town of 13,000 just eight miles east of Hilton Head, expects to draw boiled-peanut aficionados and cooks from throughout the South. Sponsored by the Bluffton Chamber of Commerce, the free event will feature a two-tiered cook-off for traditional and creative interpretations of the dish.
There will be a boiled peanut eating competition, and the festival will crown both a Ms. Peanut and a Little Goober, a contest open to children under 3 years old.
One of the longest-standing — and longest named — goober events is the Crenshaw County Alcazar Shrine Club's World's Largest Peanut Boil in Luverne, Ala., which will start boiling for the 46th time on Aug. 31 this year.
Andy Compton is the spokesman for the event.
"Last year we boiled 27 tons of peanuts from Holland Farm in Jay, Fla.," Compton said. "We start cooking on Wednesday night before Labor Day weekend, and we boil and sell peanuts until they're gone."
That usually takes four days, he said.
"Last couple of years we've been fortunate enough to be out of peanuts by Sunday," he said. "Everybody's pretty tired by then."
The Shriners boil the peanuts in a tub 10 feet long by two feet wide by three feet deep. It holds a ton and a half of peanuts at a time.
There's nothing fancy about the recipe, Compton said.
"They're green peanuts, boiled for three hours in water with salt," he said.
Some customers buy a pound or two, some buy up to 160 pounds.
"They freeze real good," Compton said. "You can either let 'em thaw by themselves or boil them again in salt water."
So whether you're shopping for a pound of boiled peanuts or a ton, there's a place in the South this fall waiting to take your order. Happy squishing.
Patrick Martin is a contributor from St. Louis, Mo.
September/October 2016 Issue
Prep time 10 mins | Cook time 10 hours | Total time 10 hours 10 mins
In South Louisiana, look for raw or green peanuts at Fresh Pickin's market in Lafayette or Pete's Farmer's Market on Airline Highway in Baton Rouge.
Recipe by: George Graham - AcadianaTable.com
3 pounds raw (or green) peanuts
1. Rinse the peanuts and remove any grit or dirt.
2. In the container of a 6 to 8-quart slow cooker, add the peanuts. Without peeling, place the whole heads of garlic in the cooker and pour over the beer. Add enough water to cover the peanuts. Add the garlic powder, onion powder, red pepper flakes, and salt. Stir to combine.
3. Set the timer on the cooker for 10 hours and let cook on low all day or overnight. Test for doneness and cook longer until the peanuts are tender. Add more water to the cooker if needed and set to warm. Let the peanuts soak in the warm liquid for another two hours. Serve the peanuts from the cooker and refrigerate any leftovers in a covered container. These boiled peanuts are excellent cold or can be reheated in the slow cooker.
Cooking time in a slow cooker varies with respect to peanut size, type and moisture content. Raw peanuts take longer to cook than green peanuts. Generally speaking, the longer boiled peanuts hang out in the warm liquid, the better they get. But note, there is a point when peanuts begin to turn mushy, but you will be sure to eat them all before that happens. Be careful not to make the boiling liquid too salty. You can always add more salt or spice at the end of cooking.
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