On my drive today, I began noticing road-side stands for boiled peanuts. More than one sign shortened the name to “P-nut”, which seems to be a preferred spelling for most vendors. Even when the sign was very large and the print very small.
I stopped for gas between Savannah and Florida, and noticed a huge pot spewing steam beside the building. With a sign. Not with the “P-nut” spelling of other road-side stands, but I was quite sure a relative.
Even though I had sworn not to get sucked into eating gas station food, this seemed a reasonable and fascinating local exception, and I went in, fully intended to buy and try some.
This was my second attempt to enjoy this local delicacy.
In Savannah, I almost ordered some as an appetizer, but Marty, who sat beside me, talked me out of it, suggesting oysters instead. She described them as slimy, and she was comparing them to oysters, so it wasn’t hard to let go of my resolve. Especially with an abundance of other choices. It looked like I was getting another chance.
But I was foiled again. The Boiled P-Nut bin was half empty.
The half that was full contained Cajun P-nuts, which the young woman said would burn the hair off my head, and even most the local men preferred the salted ones. The empty side had contained the “regular” kind, which had sold out, and a second batch was indeed boiling outside as we spoke. I would wait it out, and keep my hair.
I preceded to perplex (and possibly torture) the poor young woman with the spate of peanut inquiries that preceded to emerge involuntarily from my imagination.
I didn’t know peanuts were green, and that is because they aren’t. Apparently “green” just means not ripe yet. Still crunchy. Like a hard bean, said the girl.
“You just boil the shit out of them for about an hour” she spoke in a drawl that turned “shit” into a three syllable word.
She said you know they are done when you can crack the shell and get the peanut out. And the peanut is soft, like a cooked pinto bean. If it’s crunchy, it’s not done yet. I asked what one does with the shell and she responded that one throws them right on the ground. P-nuts are clearly an outdoor food.
I was also told that people sometimes don’t pronounce the “ed” on the end of boil(ed) … making it Boil P-nuts. Like a command. A verb.
She wasn’t sure why Georgians, and other southerners eat boiled peanuts, but by this evening I was so curious, I couldn’t refrain from doing a little research. I was also so tired, it was dubious research. So, take it with a pot of peanut salt.
Apparently, southerners are thought to have begun eating boil(ed) p-nuts during the civil war when food was in terribly short supply. The salt in the water, and thus in the shell, helped preserve them for a couple days, making them better rations than no rations.
Confederate soldiers were sometimes referred to as “Goober-Grabbers” – goober being a possible twist on an African (Bantu) word for the same legume. They are also sometimes referred to as “pea-goobers.” Goobers have also come to mean “one who is a bit of a numb-skull”
There is also this crazy custom in the south to dump a package of salted peanuts into a COKE BOTTLE, drink the salty Coke, and then eat the soggy, cola-soaked p-nuts. Whoah.
Apparently this is a fond food memory for many southerners. Also completely inconceivable to me. It’s not clear to me if this is still done with any regularity.
Finally, I learned from a questionable and possibly disreputable site on the inter-web, that the boiled green peanut has, in maybe-fact, been made Georgia’s “official” snack food. Who knew there was such a thing? I wonder what other states have made “official”!
On May 1, 2006, Gov. Mark Sanford came to York County and officially signed into law, H.4585, to make the boiled peanut South Carolina’s official state snack food. Tom Stanford, a Winthrop University graduate, came up with the idea in a government class because he likes boiled peanutsCentre for the Study of Southern Culture
At my second gas-stop there was a p-nut station where one could lift a lid and scoop out your own little delights into a soup bowl. My third and final chance of the day for this Canadian to be fully initiated!
I lifted and peeked, letting the salty-eartm steam mingle with the monochromatic hues of the brown soup for a moment. Remembering I hadn’t yet finished the bananas in the van, I smiled in my uniquely Canadian smile and quietly put the lid back.
Three times, no goobers. Which, I’m sure by southern standards, makes me a bit of a goober. Next Time, and I’ll make sure to get the T-shirt.