One of the first exchanges I ever had online with a stranger I met in a chat room was telling him how to boil peanuts.
He was from Canada, or so he said. It’s been so long I can’t remember his name, but I remember his interest in anything Southern, especially boiled peanuts.
To me, boiled peanuts are a staple, as important and ordinary as grits or fried chicken for dinner on Sunday. It was an eye-opener to realize that not everyone is familiar with this delicacy, and I was eager to share with Mr. Canadian the delights of Southern tradition.
First, I typed, you find some green peanuts.
He had never heard of green peanuts.
I explained green peanuts were fresh, not dried or roasted, in the shell. He said he had never seen them available that way.
I told him if he could find some raw peanuts in the shell that might work even if they were dry. “Soak them overnight in the salty water before you start them boiling,” I suggested.
I don’t remember whether the Canada man ever ventured to try them. I wonder if he did, and whether he liked them.
Some people don’t, I’ve heard.
Considering peanuts are actually legumes and not true nuts, it should make sense that they are good boiled. We boil peas and other legumes, albeit usually after they are shelled. I don’t know anyone who ever tried boiling peanuts that have been shelled, but I wonder whether they would be good that way - eaten with a fork, like peas. Hmmm...
Peanuts boils are part of Southern heritage, much like the fish fries and low country boils. It’ a time when friends and neighbors gather for fellowship and a bait of those good ol’ goober peas. Ground nuts, whatever- boiled to perfection and salted just so, you can hurt yourself eating them, because they’re like those potato chips — you can’t just eat one.
I remember helping to “pull” peanuts as a child. You have to straddle the row, reach down, and gather as many vines as you can, grabbing them close to the ground, where the roots dig in. Bracing yourself, you pull — and come up with an armload of vines with long roots holding the peanuts — covered in dirt.
You give the armload of vines a couple good shakes to knock off most of the dirt, then toss the armload onto a tobacco sheet (a large burlap sheet) or into the back of a truck.
Repeat until you have enough peanuts for a “mess.”
A “mess” is defined by the amount of folks who will be consuming the peanuts. Usually when we pulled peanuts, we ended up with mountains of vines. What we would not eat, we could freeze to enjoy during the winter. And if we were having a peanut boil, the amount of peanuts needed multiplied.
Dad would take the pile of vines to a spot underneath the old chinaberry tree, and we would start picking them off. I always included the “pops” in my bucket, because I liked eating them. Boiling the “pops,” which were immature peanut, resulted in soft, salty morsels that could be eaten whole.
Dad always made sure we didn’t leave the tiny vine parts attached to the peanut hull. It was easy work, preferable to hoeing the garden, picking peas, or other farm work, because we could sit under the shade and talk while we picked off the peanuts.
We got dirty, however. No matter how well you shake those vines in the field, you still get dirty.
Dad always liked using a particular pot when he boiled a mess just for us at home, but when we had those big peanut boils, we used gas burners and huge pots.
I always carried the vines to my ponies afterward, and they seemed to really appreciate the bounty. Today, with all the pesticides and with a broader knowledge of equines, I would hesitate to do so again, but those ponies never suffered and definitely ate their fill of the lush green vines.
Some farmers bale the peanuts vines for cattle feed. Farmers using equipment specifically for harvesting peanuts will dig up the plants by the roots, toss them and leave them turned upside down so the roots and peanuts can dry before a “peanut picker” machine removes them from the vines.In some places, you can find boiled peanuts year-round. They freeze well and are a delightful treat in the winter. Next month, however, the true boiled peanut season begins as the crop matures and farmers begin digging them up. Signs reading “Boiled peanuts” for sale will pop up all over and as the vines dry in the sun, the rich aroma will permeate the breeze.