Sunday, September 28, 2014

Taste the Tradition: Peanuts!

By Jeff Burns

There’s no escaping it in the South, especially in Georgia;  summer means it’s boiled peanuts season.   While it is now possible to purchase canned or bagged peanuts ready to heat and eat , nothing beats the good old fashioned peanut boil that has been a southern tradition since the 19th century.  Boiled peanut stands pop up along roads and boiled peanuts are a staple at fall gatherings, festivals, and  high school football games.

Boiled peanuts have become major symbols of southern cooking, along with okra, black-eyed peas, and fried chicken.  The practice was probably brought to the South by African slaves who had traditionally grown peanuts or goobers in West Africa.  Before the late 1800s and George Washington Carver’s promotion of the crop, peanuts were primarily grown for animal feed.  In July and August, unsold peanuts were boiled for social gatherings.

The practice spread throughout the South and peanut boils became popular activities for families and friends to share, like fish frys and barbecues.  When I was a boy, they were a common practice.  I vividly remember either going to a farm and pulling a truckload of peanut plants from the ground, spending the afternoon picking the peanuts off, and boiling them if a propane tank fish fryer set up with neighbors and relatives into the night.

In rural Georgia and elsewhere, peanut boils were a teen hangout of choice.  Marilyn Johnson fondly remembers:
 I used to love hanging out with my cousin, Wanda, when my family visited my grandmother in Georgia (Lyons). Wanda was five years older than me, and it made me feel so grown up and special when she took me places with her. I remember one visit in particular. I was 11 years old, she was 16 (driving), and she said she wanted to take me to a "peanut boiling" in Uvalda. Well, I had no idea what that was, so she explained that it was a party and lots of her friends would be there. I was thrilled about being invited to that. So, we dressed up (all the girls wore dresses), and spent some time on the highway before pulling up in front of a farm house in the middle of the woods. It was after sundown when we got there, and I remember seeing peanuts boiling in big tubs (foot tubs is what my grandmother called them) over open fires outside....can't say how many there were, but there were several. There were a couple of tubs full and ready to eat on the front porch, and one big tub full inside in the middle of the living room. Everybody there was in high school, and I honestly don't recall any adults being present. The place was wall-to-wall teenager! I had such a good time, and I ate peanuts until I thought I'd be sick. After we got home late that night, everyone asked about the party, wanting to know who was there and such. I think our parents were just probing, trying to find out if anything inappropriate went on, but nothing out of the way happened at all. My mother told me afterwards that peanut boilings were common among the farmer's kids in that part of Georgia, and that was the type of party teenagers used to have when and where she grew up. It truly was a unique experience for this city girl from Jacksonville, and it is one of my fondest memories of time spent with my cousin.
Boiled peanuts were often an introduction to free enterprise for children as well.  Before they were even old enough to mow lawns for spending money, my older brother and our cousin boiled peanuts, put them in small brown paper bags, loaded them up in a little red wagon, and wheeled them around the neighborhood, selling them for a quarter a bag.

All you need to boil peanuts is raw or “green” peanuts, salt, water (or beer), and a heat source.  You can boil peanuts on an open fire, over a propane flame , on a stovetop, or even in a crockpot (my favorite method now; just put them in the crockpot overnight) You can also add your favorite seasoning like Cajun spices, or Old Bay seasoning , just to name a couple.  Find a recipe you like and go with it.

Share your peanut memories with us!
Boiled peanuts. (2014, February 16). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 17:28, July 12, 2014, from

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