Monday, March 15, 2010

Goober peas

Drive around the back roads of Gulf Coast Florida, and you may encounter farm stands that sell local produce. Depending on the season, you might find tomatoes, sweet corn, rattlesnake watermelons, citrus....

And boiled peanuts.

Roasted peanuts

If you're only familiar with the ubiquitous peanut in its roasted form - ball-park peanuts, foil packaged airline peanuts, dry-roasted peanuts in jars, peanut brittle, French burnt peanuts or peanut butter - this is a totally different peanut experience.

The way you experience boiled peanuts is you pull your car onto the sandy shoulder of a country road beneath towering cypress and pine trees. From beneath the shelter of a wood-roofed shed or open pavilion, a fellow in a gimme-cap dips a battered old sieve or plastic colander into a big aluminum pot simmering darkly over a propane flame or a charcoal burner. The murky brown water drips back into the pot, and a scoop of boiled peanuts goes into a white plastic grocery bag, which is then nestled into a brown paper bag, and then again into a white plastic grocery bag, whose handles are tied in a knot to secure the package.

If there's a lot of you in the car and you have a ways to go, most of the time the boiled peanuts don't make it home - they get eaten up before you arrive at your destination.

Boiled peanuts are a common delicacy in the American South. Raw green peanuts are boiled for a long period - sometimes up to nine hours - in water with salt and sometimes other flavorings such as beer, red pepper flakes, or Cajun spices. They're best eaten warm, and best in the car, while you barrel down a country road, licking salt from your fingers. It's considered a courtesy for the passenger to help peel them for the driver.

Boiled peanut on the left, roasted peanut on the right.

The shell of a boiled peanut is soft and swollen, and the color and texture of soaked corrugated cardboard. They split open easily as you squeeze them, or with the pressure of a bite. Inside, the peanuts themselves are swimming in brine, their reddish skins damp and clinging, and split into their two halves as the shell comes apart. They are soft, pale and translucent, and the flesh is pulpy like a boiled waxy potato. The taste is starchy, vegetal, salty, and a little smoky from the fire.

You can't stop eating them.

In the years after the Civil War, a popular folk song for rural folk was called "Goober Peas." It told how Confederate soldiers, as the war turned against their cause, lacking provisions and hungry, were reduced to eating boiled peanuts salvaged from nearby fields.
Sitting by the roadside on a summer's day
Chatting with my mess-mates, passing time away
Lying in the shadows underneath the trees
Goodness, how delicious, eating goober peas.
Peas, peas, peas, peas
Eating goober peas
Goodness, how delicious,
Eating goober peas.
Thought the peanut originated in South America, it came to the American South from West Africa, where the Portuguese had imported it to grow in their other colonies. The peanut isn't really a nut, it's a legume, like beans or peas. In Africa, they are called "ground nut." They also became popular in Asia, in India, Thailand and Vietnam. In Vietnam, as in the American South, boiled peanuts are a treat enjoyed with a cold beer.

Today, my brother-in-law brought a couple bags of boiled peanuts home to the beach house to share with us, so I was able to eat them in a luxurious setting - in a bowl with a couple of napkins.

Goodness, how delicious!


Tristan Robin Blakeman said...

I"ve never had boiled peanuts ... the most exotic peanut I've ever had was honey glazed LOL.

But they sound wonderful - I'm going to try to find some raw peanuts and give it a shot!

Sue (Someone's Mom) said...

They are a family favorite in our house. We find them in GA, AL and Florida at places I can't believe I will buy food. The first time I had them, I didn't like the texture...but, now I just can't wait until we see the first sign!

Kate said...

Yeah for goober peas! I'd love some right about now. Thanks for the information; I never knew this great stuff about boiled peanuts. Yum.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

I was born in Florida, but we moved to D.C. when I was little.

And now (at last) I know about goober peas!

Anonymous said...

You're right - it's next to impossible to stop eating them. Running out of them is your only hope. Be well.

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

What a nice post, I have a good friend originally from the Fort Walton Beach area, and she always raves about boiled peanuts.

Time for a road trip?

Nej said...

I've never had boiled peanuts...but this post makes me want to drive south and get myself a bag...stat!!! :-)

Anonymous said...

I learned that song as a kid in the PacNW, part of a unit on Civil War history.

When you write about food, your words and photos always make me want to try the featured item.