Other Wind
29 / July29 / July29 / July

Boiled Peanuts

One thing I love about living in the south is my proximity to boiled peanuts. I had never heard of them until I took a road trip to Panama City with my friend Debbie and her mom while I was in high school. Debbie’s mom decided to take a back way for part of the trip. We left the interstate, a routine fragment of our native habitat, and moved into the country to pass through the thick of southern Georgia and Alabama.

The flatness of the land in this part of the country was strange to me. In Appalachian East Tennessee, where I lived, whole hillsides and mountains were entities, with their trees covering them as single organisms. On much of the land we were crossing, trees stood out, alone or in groupings, against a level scene. The ground itself was alive. Freshly tilled soil and rows of crops led my eyes to scan the expanses.

The experience contrasted with my expectations about our destination. For weeks I had been looking forward to the dance clubs and crowded beaches of Panama City. This still country did not fit into the daydreams I had been building, but I enjoyed the unfamiliarity of it more than I thought I would when we left the interstate. When Debbie’s mom pulled over at the stand advertising boiled peanuts, however, I had my doubts.

Even now I admit that boiled peanuts don’t sound very good. Debbie and her mom were excited about them, though, so I agreed. I loved the experience—digging into the warm paper sack, breaking the wet shells, feasting on the warm, salty, and softened nuts while the salt juices dripped down my fingers and onto my chin. What fun, what punctuation these peanuts added to our trip, like a comma in the middle of a sentence.

Years later, my boyfriend and I were visiting my aunt and uncle in rural South Carolina. Along the road we saw two old men with an improvised boiled peanuts stand made out of a large covered cauldron in the bed of a pickup truck. I decreed that we must pull over. One of the men saw that we had Tennessee plates on our car, which amused him, and we caught his interest. We were foreigners, so he had to explain boiled peanuts to us—how long they took to soften, how he’d started that batch the night before and had to wait for it to be right. He spoke with an accent, but, contrary to the popular depiction of all southern accents, it was not a slow drawl. It was fast and slurred and sounded foreign to me. I had to ask him to repeat himself several times, and finally just pretended to understand, nodding my head and smiling. I never expected to find such an exotic experience only five hours from my home.

Every summer a coworker of mine visits South Carolina and brings back bulk quantities of raw peanuts so he can roast and boil his own at home. I look forward to his trips, because soon he will bring boiled peanuts to work for everyone to share. Those of us who like them will stand around with napkins close by, break open the shells, suck out the wetness, and enjoy the soft treats inside of each peanut, one at a time, day after day, until they are all gone. This event will be a luxury, a hint of a roadside stand on route through the southern depths. I will want to travel soon.

"There'll be cider up near Helen off the roadside, and boiled peanuts in a bag to warm your fingers..." - Southland in the Springtime

Posted by: Erin on April 16, 2003 07:05 PM

We didn't try the boiled peanuts when we were with you at the beach. Wish now I had. Aunt Faye

Posted by: Aunt Faye on April 18, 2003 10:35 PM