Southerners owe a debt of gratitude to the unknown person who first boiled peanuts--he (or she) created arguably the most intrinsically Southern snack. The humble goober, water-logged and salty enough to put the Gulf of Mexico to shame, is not only a food star, but a regional icon.
Stop by any roadside stand where salt-of-the-earth characters draw steaming scoops from a simmering pot, and you'll get a taste of Southern culture in a nutshell. You'll find silver-haired dowagers in pumps and pearls lined up alongside shaggy guys in muscle tees and flip flops waiting to buy a $2 cup. Jimmy Carter, a boiler himself, may have summed it up best: "Boiled peanuts. . . should be considered one of the great gifts of God to mankind."
We couldn't agree more. So for this last official weekend of summer (and the start of football season), let's celebrate boiled peanuts and some folks who are as nuts about them as we are. Tell us: where do you brake for peanuts?
1. Spreading the Gospel Across the Land Perhaps no boiled peanut purveyors are more prominent than Matt and Ted Lee, aka The Lee Bros. They began their Boiled Peanuts Catalog in 1994, shipping frozen goobers and other Southern goods to peanut- parched folks who live Away. Thanks to them, even brides are giving peanuts as party favors. Most recently, they had a 1-day sale of peanuts boiled in seawater, in the early Lowcountry tradition (talk about fresh, local!). Their "I Brake for Boiled Peanuts" sticker is now a classic that you can order from their site.
2. Luverne's Claim to Fame It takes dedication to boil 25 tons of peanuts in the heat, but that's how the Luverne, Alabama, Shriners will be raising funds from now through Labor Day, at "The World's Largest Peanut Boil." They're everything a boiled peanut should be--perfectly salted, loaded with juice, slightly firm, and gently nestled in the shell. Intersection of State Highway 10 and 331.
3. The Family that Boils Together. . . Gordon Darley has been boiling peanuts in a shed behind the family home in Albany, Georgia, for more than 30 years, while wife Eleanor and a helper bag the goobers and handle the sales ($2 for big bag, $1 for a small). Local Flint Community Bank buys them in bulk as premiums for its customers (that's our kind of bank). 833 Shadowlawn Drive, 229-883-5928
4. The Young Guns In October 2011, the Southern Foodways Alliance awarded Ken and Brad Hardy the august "Keepers of the Flame" award and told their story in a film, "Hot, Wet Goobers." That's because the cousins came home from ag school and turned their fathers' successful farm into a massive boiled peanut business based in Hawkinsville, Georgia. You can buy their goobers at stands across Georgia, (including one in front of the peanut plant), or in supermarkets around the South. 1659 Eastman Highway, hardyfarmspeanuts.com, 888-368-6887
5. What's In A Sign? Darned if we know. Is there hidden meaning in the fact that on some signs peanuts are clothed and some are nekkid? Or that some are dancing and smiling while others just lie in dignified silence? We just know that a dancing peanut gets our vote (and our business) every time.
6. Life in the Slow Lane Judge Varner (yes, that's his name) mans his pot at the Fort Valley, Georgia, Main Street Farmers Market, and enjoys a real local following. He waxes philosophical about his trade. "It lets my children know it's not so hard to make an honest dollar." The boiled peanut business can move at a snail's pace here, town, so Judge passes the time playing checkers. We think he'd fit right in in Mayberry, but for now, look for him on Main Street, downtown Fort Valley, GA.
7. A Farm Stand Staple Many produce stands in the South sell boiled peanuts, and Davis Farm stand, near Quincy, Florida, is no exception. Forrest and Ann Davis sell fresh produce, tupelo honey, homemade fig preserves, mayhaw jelly, and pickles. But boiled peanuts are their calling card. "They might buy something else," says Ann, "but it's the boiled peanuts that get them here." 9611 Hosford Highway, 850-875-2697
8. In Goobers We Trust On Highway 79 near Esto, Florida, just before the Alabama state line, sits an honor stand. Here, the invisible proprietors leaves boiled peanuts and garden tomatoes on the tailgate of a pick-up truck with instructions to leave money in the tackle box. We consider this display of trust evidence of the positive power of boiled peanuts on the human spirit. 997 Highway 79