The Recipe for Boiling Peanuts
By Brenda Flynn
It came unbidden on a hot summer day, this recipe for boiling peanuts.
I walked over to a little roadside fruit stand, which had apparently become a permanent structure because of sheer will on the vendor's part to make it such, and carefully eyed the produce. It was peach season in this part of the South, and they looked to be abundant here, although the mass-marketed fruit crates thrown lazily to the backside of the lean-to fruit stand belied their original destination may have been a grocery chain. No, these were not fresh-picked, as the signs boldly announced. There wasn't a peach tree in sight, and the spotting on the fragile, fuzzy peach skins were starting to show. Still, the peaches had that slight, sweet aroma that always drew me closer, making me remember seasons in childhood, when I raided buckets of them in the groves, chomping down relentlessly on the most perfect peaches, not saving them for dad's canning jars.
There were other tasty offerings. Okra, also in season, was piled high in small green plastic containers. Small red creamer potatoes, green beans and tomatoes by the truckloads were all carefully arranged so as to show off the best of the bunches, with the firmest on top, the less desirable towards the bottom.
For a minute or two, I stood there, staring at the deep red hues of the vine-ripened tomatoes. On a recent trip overseas, I remembered how I marveled at the produce there as well. European markets don't pile the produce up in little containers in the street vendor markets. Instead, they line huge, downward-facing bin shelves full of locally-grown produce, and each stand is covered with colorful awnings. Carrots are all in rabbit-patch bunches, asparagus is tied neatly with cloth ribbons and the leeks are so mildly scented you wouldn't know they were large participants in the onion parade. Even garlic is sold in huge barrels and refrigerated bins, mostly in cloves that have been pickled, and are crunchy and sweet as an apple. I could on the sidewalks and watched the produce hawkers for hours, content to listen to the mutterings of buyers who haggle with the market owners over the price of fresh brown farm eggs or whole chestnuts. Old women, young women, children, men all filed past the markets, casually choosing a pear or small fig to snack on as they each make their journey home.
My eyes drifted back to the pleasant woman who cheerily asked if I was through with my shopping. Absent-mindedly, I glanced over to her face. She had rung up my large basket of peaches and I quickly added a large pineapple to the counter.
"Wait for this 'un to get nice and ripe. It's gotta get that golden color before it's sweet. But don't wait too long, now, 'cause it'll get those brown spots," she cautioned.
That's when I looked over her head and slightly to the left, a small, handwritten sign said, "Boiled Peanuts $3 a quart."
Boiled peanuts. Raised in the South, it was a staple food of the summer. But there was a certain technique to boiling peanuts. I personally had never perfected the craft, feeling it was a waste of time and money to boil my own, much preferring to buy them from stands along the state and county roads. If I bought a batch of boiled peanuts that didn't exactly meet my culinary standards, I simply tossed them after a few and made mental notes not to stop at that stand again. Prices usually ranged from $2 to $3 for two-cup scoop, dished out into a plastic or paper bag, then wrapped in another one with handles, packaged with a couple of paper towels for catching drips and wiping off salty fingers and faces. This woman offered a whole quart for $3, and had samples to boot. The samples, piled high in an old china dish, looked almost translucent, like an old woman's skin. They were the peanuts that you could almost eat, shell and all, because they were so tender and soft, providing the vendor had washed them good. These looked clean as a white eggshell. They were my favorite kind.
I popped a couple in my mouth to taste them. They were wonderfully salty, but not enough to make your lips prune up. She saw the look on my face and took it as an invitation to explain her methods of cook-witchery.
"Ya-see, it's real hard to boil them dry peanuts, cause first you gotta soak 'em fer a whole day, just to get 'em where you can boil ‘em down, then it takes a whole day to do that," the woman with the cool, green eyes remarked as she flashed a toothy smile. "Then, oncest you got them boiled down in the salt and all, they're pretty good the following day, but you gotta reheat 'em up, cause nobody wants no cold boilt peanuts. I'd rather just boil 'em green. Less trouble. Better peanuts."
I couldn't agree more. She dipped them out into the plastic bag and my mouth watered. I almost couldn't wait to get back into the car to eat them.
This woman was typical of small-town Southern folk. Always giving you more than you asked for, with a ready smile and a knowing glance. I didn't invite conversation that day, but I got it, and it lifted my spirits and made me smile. For that, I thank that woman who boils peanuts to absolute perfection. I'll ask her name as she's dipping out those peanuts for me next time. Because, it's a safe bet I'll be back.
Brenda Flynn is a free-lance writer based in McIntosh, Florida. Just in case you're wondering, that wonderful produce stand with the best boiled peanuts in the South is at the corner of Dixie's Antiques in downtown Williston, Florida. Contact Brenda Flynn at: firstname.lastname@example.org