Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Boiled Peanuts

It was before we got the big silver Impala. Actually, all of my father’s “demonstrators”, those nice cars the dealership let him drive, were silver. No, this was in my mother’s old beat up blue station wagon. It was the car she drove to work as an elementary school and art teacher. It was always strewn with the detritus from the ghosts of first graders past and the paper mache dreams of high school art students. Those dreams would later be squandered in the oyster shucking profession. That car smelled of boiled peanuts and paste and old conch egg casings picked up on the shorelines of St. Simon’s Island.

I would sit with my chubby knees on the edge of the seat in my navy blue stretch shorts, usually purchased at Punch and Judy’s “Husky” department, and my blue boat shoes would kick the dashboard. We could have been traveling anywhere, perhaps to Savannah, perhaps to St. Simons, or maybe to Beaufort. She would cut her eyes at me, as we would approach those roadside stands. She was intimately acquainted with each of these places. Suddenly, she’d veer off and you knew it was time to get some boiled peanuts.

The best ones were still warm in their soggy paper bags. They would be salty and slightly smoky and you would pop them in your mouth to pop the shell and suck the juices out of them before eating the peanuts. Then we’d try to put the shells back in the little bag, but most often they’d end up on the floor with the roasted peanut shells we had gotten on the last outing. That’s why my mother’s cars always had the aroma of boiled peanuts. That smell reminds me of her every bit as much as the Chanel #5 that she always wore.

The pronunciation of “Boiled Peanuts” in the South sounds like “Balled Peanuts”. Except you draw out the short “a” a bit. Perhaps you are not familiar with them, or perhaps you saw them when you visited here and thought it a strange idea. But they are really wonderful, and you should give them a try.

This is the season when the new crop of raw peanuts is available. It’s the best time to fix them. It’s fairly straightforward. Just get a big pot of salted water, some raw peanuts and boil them for a few hours.

Now, the best ones that you find on the roadside are usually boiled in an open kettle over a wood fire. They often have just a hint of smoky flavor. You can add that by putting a dash of liquid smoke in your pot while you are boiling them. I also like to throw in a little smoked fatback. That’s sort of my personal secret ingredient for my boiled peanuts.

You can tell when they are done when the peanuts no longer have that crunchy raw texture and taste. They should be sort of mushy and not crunchy at all. The shells should be sort of soft. It depends on the variety of peanut that you buy. Both sorts are good boiled.

When they are done, strain them out in a colander and put them in brown paper lunch bags. You do need to refrigerate them.

I’ve got a big mess on the stove right now. I’m gonna make a huge mess eating them too. I’ll hear my mother's laughter, I’m sure. I always do.

Written by: Rosie at Smoky Mountain Breakdown