Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Ode to Boiled Peanuts

"Willpower is the ability to eat one boiled peanut."

When it's summertime in my home state, it is time for frosty cold beer and munchies at four o'clock in the afternoon. There's never been a munchie yet to compare with a fresh batch of hot boiled peanuts.
Southerners feel a certain kind of reverence to this almost holy way of cooking the lowly goober. Yankees may think we're nuts, but that just begs the question of how they were raised. Yankee husband Babe, on the other hand, eats anything not Super Glued to the floor and he considers boiled peanuts a gourmet delicacy. I claim responsibility for his fine epicurean taste bud sensation because I work overtime hoping to purge him of his Yankeeness.
The large quantity of All-You-Can-Eat Buffet restaurants found up and down the East Coast is clear evidence that Southerners have an enduring taste for good food. We are proud of our ability to pick something from the garden, like the peanut, boil it to death in salt water and then proceed to dance it around in our mouths. Cold beer and a bowl of fresh goobers can make a one-legged man shag to that tune all day long.
I tried explaining to my unenlightened northern friends that a boiled peanut is a viable food source in Dixie, but they stare holes in me as if I am the nut in question. Imagine that! Instead of embracing the subtle salty flavor and delicately firm pip of the South's unofficial favorite food, they turn up their noses without even a taste. I'll never understand how we lost that war.
Popping a warm boiled peanut in my mouth any time from June through October, is akin to going home again. I can never swallow that first goober without thinking of the twenty-five cent bags that were available on every street corner in my hometown.
When, several years ago Georgia's good neighbors to the north were polled by Charleston's Post and Courier Food Editor in order to ascertain South Carolina's most popular food, the ugly, no-color, lowly, salty, boiled peanut came out on top. Who'd have thunk it? I was born and raised in South Carolina, but nobody polled me. If they had, I'd have cheered for the bald peanut, as we from the Palmetto State like to say.
After reading about the food poll, I began to ponder the pinder and the reason why it is so beloved in the South. Why, I questioned, do we place it on a pedestal up there right next to Robert E. Lee?
I think it is because the quintessential Southerner, like the boiled peanut is unpretentious, albeit a bit salty. Southerners revere tradition and a boiled peanut IS tradition; eating one is not unlike a right of passage for those of us lucky enough to be raised below the Mason-Dixon Line.
The peanut was a Southern titleholder long before Jimmy Carter made it a household word. Like religion, a boiled peanut experience has been known to change a life.
When my friend Eve moved to our small South Carolina town from Wilmington, she spied a boiled peanut stand on the corner by Wood's Five & Dime. Twenty-five cents a bag. "I wanted to cross myself," she says. "In my opinion, a town with a local boiled peanut stand is a holy place."
Which is to say that eating a boiled peanut is about as close to a religious experience as a southerner can have. I might not cross myself or genuflect in front of a peanut stand, but I will go to my grave saying this: "If there are no boiled peanuts in heaven, then I don't want to go there!"

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