Boiled Peanuts: Caviar of the South
I don’t know when my love of boiled (or “boylled” as we say around here) peanuts began, but it has lasted sixty years and I’ve never lost a taste for them in all that time.
In fact, ask the right people around town and you’ll find out that I used to be called “Peanut” because of my obsession with, as some call them, Southern Caviar.
My grandpa called them “goobers,” and my grandmother used to sing a little song to my sister and me that goes like this: “Peas, peas, peas, peas, eatin’ goober peas; goodness how delicious, eatin’ goober peas.”
Okay, so maybe those aren't the catchiest lyrics you’ve ever heard, but they sure tickled me at the time. And it didn’t take a lot to tickle me at the time.
I do remember that the place of choice to get the best green peanuts, straight out of the ground, was James Blackwell’s store. In Lincolnton, the building now housing Jericho Florist used to be Blackwell’s Mercantile Store, and they sold everything from “sneakers” (PF Flyers, to be exact, that I got every year at the start of school) to fresh turnip greens.
And of course, they had green peanuts. I would call "Mr. James" four or five times a week at the beginning of fall to see if the peanuts had arrived, and when they did, my mother was the first to fill up a grocery sack full to take home and boil.
A couple of times we bought out the store’s entire peanut order, and "Mr. James" had to call for more. I mean I could make myself sick eating those things. There was nothing better in my ten-year-old world than a huge bowl of hot boiled peanuts and a big glass of strawberry Kool-Aid.
It’s a wonder I didn’t weigh two-hundred pounds back then but my granddaddy used to say, “Aw, she’ll run it off,” referring to my activity level, and the fact that children back then spent more time out than in.
When peanuts weren’t in season, Cedar Creek canned boiled peanuts were a pretty good substitute for the real deal. Our cupboards stayed stocked with an ample supply of the cans; you know, the kind that had the “key” on the top that you pried off, then used to screw the can open.
At Christmastime, Santa, being the all-knowing fella that he is, would leave a case of canned boiled peanuts beneath the tree for me every year. I was as happy with that as I was with my Barbie Doll or my Candyland game.
As I grew older, married, and moved away from Lincolnton, Mr. Blackwell, bless his heart, would call my mother when the peanuts came in, and when my husband and I’d come home for the weekend, I could smell the peanuts boiling as we came through the front door.
Ironically, the first job my husband took after college landed us slap dab in the part of Georgia they call the Peanut Capital of the World, Early County. Blakely is the county seat, and the town is about as far south as you can go without being in Florida and about as far west as you can go without being in Alabama.
Naturally, peanuts are the main crop in Early County, and every fall the town was literally covered in peanut dust. I loved it.
Hubby worked as a county extension agent, and part of his job was to supervise the float entry for the yearly county agricultural fair.
Superb delegator that he is, he asked me to think of something for the float and construct it. With the help of the county economist, I concocted an eight-foot tall peanut made out of chicken wire, covered it with paper mache, and painted it brown. It was spectacular.
The side of the float bore the words, “Early County: Where the Peanut is King.” And yes, there was a face on the Peanut, and Mr. Peanut wore a crown. My hard work and perseverance paid off as we won First Place and some monies for the 4-H Club.
I don’t know whatever happened to Mr. Peanut, but he was a Masterpiece, if I do say so myself.
I’m glad to know that peanuts, boiled in particular, are still sold and enjoyed in abundance around here.
Yankees despise boiled peanuts almost as much as I despise boiled okra, and for the same reason.
“They’re so slimy!” my Boston friend said.
“Well, so’s your codfish,” I said, “and peanuts don’t smell like….well, fish.”
There’s definitely an art to boiling peanuts. First you wash the raw peanuts thoroughly in cool water to get all the dirt and mud off of them. Put them in a huge pot of water and pour in a lot of salt. Turn the stove on high, and when the peanuts begin to boil, turn it down and cover the pot. If you can control yourself, stay away from the pot for about an hour or so. I’ve never been able to do that, so by the time the peanuts are done, I’ve usually eaten about half of them.
Another tip: If you are eating peanuts and offer to share them with another and the person refuses, know that that person is either ill-mannered or lives somewhere above the Mason-Dixon line.
One other thing: Peanuts are good for you. I don’t exactly know how right this minute, but it’s true. I read it somewhere, Farmers Almanac, I think. Anyway, look how healthy and strong elephants are.
And that, in a nutshell, is why I love boiled peanuts.
Just between you and me, Georgia’s motto needs to be changed from the Peach State to the Peanut State. Can’t you just see the car tag?
GEORGIA: WHERE THE PEANUT IS KING!
Micki McGee was raised in a small town forty miles north of Augusta, Georgia. Her childhood was chocked full of exciting, sometimes traumatic, events and thus, her penchant for writing about them. She writes a personal column,"Dear Hearts," in her weekly hometown paper.