Next time you see a sign along the side of the road – brake for boiled peanuts!
Y’all, they’re amazing, and I’m not kidding!
Boiled peanuts are an acquired taste, but according to Southerners, they are addictive. They are green or raw nuts boiled in salty water for hours, often outdoors over a fire. The shells turn soggy, and the peanuts take on a fresh, legume flavor. Green peanuts are the raw peanut, before curing or roasting.
Though boiled peanuts are now enjoyed throughout a broad swath of the South, their roots run deepest right here in South Carolina. Peanuts arrived in the South sometime in the 18th century on slave ships. Peanuts were some of the provisions kept on the ships for the voyage. As with other African culinary staples like okra and black-eyed peas, peanuts eventually became part of the diets of white Carolinians, too.
Numerous accounts have claimed that the practice of boiling peanuts began with Confederate soldiers during the Civil War. Desperately hungry and cut off from food supplies, soldiers took to digging up raw peanuts and boiling them.
St. Helena Island, located just five miles east of Beaufort, is rich with Gullah culture and history. That’s where I ate boiled peanuts for the first time. Not only is this island rich in history, but it’s also rich in farmland where visitors may purchase fresh produce from local roadside stands. It was a hot August afternoon when I drove there on Hwy. 21. In front of me was a bumper sticker that said, “I Brake for Boiled Peanuts.”
I stopped at a gas station to grab a soda and saw a man with a Styrofoam cup in hand, gesturing to a spot behind the mini-mart. A plume of steam was rising from a silver vat as a man in blue overalls scooped boiled peanuts into the white cups. Behind him, plump tomatoes and bell peppers filled buckets on a rickety folding table. I bought a sack of tomatoes and a cup of boiled peanuts and headed back to the car.
Road trips in the South mean stopping at roadside stands. I love pulling over and buying a small paper bag full of these delicious salty snacks.
Bet you didn’t know that the “ed” in boiled peanuts is silent. Often signs will just say Boil P-Nuts. One of the drawbacks to these peanuts is that they have a very short shelf life unless refrigerated. If you leave them on the counter, they will be slimy and smelly in just a few days.
Later online, I found recipes for boiled peanut hummus and boiled-peanut beurre blanc and other unique concoctions. But I think I prefer just to eat them boiled, the simple way and right out of the Styrofoam cup or paper bag.
The next time you head out for a drive, get off the Interstate and follow the fence line into the country on back roads where you’ll find all kinds of surprises – you might even find a roadside boiled peanut vendor with a silver vat.
Benton’s Peanut Farm, Ruffin, SC
If you cannot find them, try making boiled peanuts at home in a crockpot – super easy! They only take 24 hours on LOW so if you start them in the afternoon, just check on them before going to bed and then again in the morning. They may need a little more water. It’s just set it and forget it.
Remember they are seasonal and this is the season! You may find them in supermarkets and farmers’ markets this time of year. August and September is when they are prolific.
If you want a little more kick, add some cayenne to the mix before cooking.
Slow Cooker Boiled Peanuts
Here’s a simple method for getting great results.
Cook for 24 hours
2 pounds green peanuts
1/2 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes
Using the lid of a 6 -quart slow cooker as a stencil, trace the outline onto parchment paper. Cut out the shape with scissors and set it aside.
Please peanuts, salt, vinegar, and red pepper flakes in the slow cooker and add 4 quarts of water. Cover with the lid and cook on the high setting for one hour. Then place the piece of parchment directly on the peanuts, reduce the setting to low, and cook for 11 hours, or until the peanuts are tender, like well-cooked beans. They will keep in the refrigerator for up to 1 week in their cooking liquid.