Previous month:
June 2008
Next month:
September 2008

August 2008

Boiled Peanuts

In our neck of the woods, peanuts are "boiled," although I understand that for other southerners they're "bald." In any case, I was at Ward's the other day, scooping up a bagful of raw peanuts to boil, when the woman across from me with the other scoop said conspiratorially, "These things are the best-kept secret in Gainesville."

I don't know how else to explain why there isn't a line snaking out the door and down 23rd Avenue. They are good in so many ways. You cannot eat just one, for one thing.  And they are fairly good for you (if you are not watching calories or sodium). Decent protein, and they're full of anti-oxidants - more than their raw or roasted cousins. And they're local and in-season between May and November. The only problem I have encountered with the love of boiled peanuts is from people who are not from the South and expect them to taste like roasted ones. They are not like that at all, much more legume-like, (they are in fact a legume, which the "pea" in peanut would alert you to if you were paying attention). 

My mother would drop a couple shelled nuts into the bottom of a bottle of RC, let them flavor the cola, and then enjoy the prize at the end of the drink. But that is probably advanced peanut-eating.

Here is a traditional recipe for neophytes: Place one pound of peanuts in a large pot, cover with water (two inches or so over the top of the nuts), add 1/2 cup salt, and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat to allow for a very slow boil for 2-4 hours.  It depends on the peanut, so start testing after two hours. They should be completely soft and nice and salty.  After they've reached the desired state, turn off the burner and let them sit for an hour or so before draining them. Store in the fridge, or call up your friends and eat them all while they're still warm.

No one knows for sure how the peanut became a favorite snack south of the Mason-Dixon, or who first thought up boiling them. But like so many things of the South, they seem to have a bit of a checkered past: They originated in Brazil and Peru, made their way to Africa during the slave trade, then back across the ocean to the southern U.S. with the abducted Africans. Boiled peanuts became a nutritious mainstay during the Civil War - high calorie, good protein, and good keepers when boiled and salted. Confederate soldiers carried them in their rations. By the turn of the 20th century, they were being sold on street corners all over the South. Today, you can find them sold out of the back of trucks and from tiny shacks on many a country road - including our own Hawthorne Road in east Gainesville.

Get yourself some, empty your mind of those dried-up roasted things, and enjoy the taste of summer in the South. Because, God knows, it gets a little trying by mid-August.