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It's funny how a song can bring back memories so vivid it's like you experienced them only yesterday. One such song for me is “Boys of Summer” by Don Henley. The music and lyrics are very poignant and maudlin of days past, especially growing up in Florida and spending summers at the beaches. Those late summer evenings when the beaches empty early due to cooler weather is a sorrowful experience for us beach bound southerners, as it signaled the end of lazy sunny days and a return to school. Even now as an adult, no longer privy to they months-long, carefree, summertime breaks, the change in weather certain songs still bring about the strong feelings of those long-gone days of youth. Needless to say, driving down the highway, in January, in Idaho, the juxtaposition of warm summer nights with the chilly windy north was rather strong.
Earlier in the morning while having breakfast with a friend we found ourselves explaining what can only be described as a true “Southernism”. Along with hot summer days and iced cold sweet tea, boiled peanuts are decidedly a Southern delicacy. Northerners and even Westerners are familiar with roasted peanuts, but few have heard of, much less tried the salty, briny, deliciousness that is the boiled peanut. As a child the beginning of summer and that first trip to the beach was always christened with a large container of fresh, hot, salty, boiled peanuts. From August to October you can find these yummy treats being sold at any number of road-side stands throughout the South, especially close to the coast. Boiled peanuts and sunny days at the beach just go hand in hand.
But what IS a boiled peanut? (asked in the voice of Joe Pesci from My Cousin Vinney when asking what is a grit.)
Boiled peanuts are just what they sound like, but they aren't made from the dry roasted peanuts most are familiar with. The best boiled peanuts are made from freshly harvested “green” peanuts. What that means is the peanut has been recently harvested (usually within just a couple days) and has not been allowed to dry out. The shells and nut inside still retain as much as 35% of their growing moisture. Many people will also call them “raw” peanuts. Of course you want to rinse these peanuts several times to remove cracked shells, bad nuts, dirt, etc... Then place them in a very large pot and cover them with water until the peanuts float. The key to making the best boiled peanuts is salt, and lots of it! Typically you will want to add at least ½ cup of salt per gallon of water. I like mine much saltier, as do most Southerners. If boiling a large batch of them it is not unheard of to use a whole container of mortons salt, or sea salt if you prefer. Some people add cajun seasoning, hot sauce, jalapenos peppers, sweet and sour seasoning, lemons, or other variations. Personally, I enjoy just the basic salted version. Let the peanuts boil about 4 hours in a regular pot or about an hour in a pressure cooker. As they cook the shells will become softened and the salty brine will penetrate the shell and peanut inside softening and flavoring both. (*Important note: roasted peanuts cannot be boiled as the shell and nut will not soften no matter how long you boil them, even under pressure.) Once thoroughly cooked allow to cool just enough so not to burn your fingers and tongue.
Now for the eating. This is the trick. You want to savor the juice inside the shell. Crack the shell along the seem with your teeth and quickly suck the juice out. Oh dear salty yumminess! Finish opening the shell and eat the softened nut inside. DO NOT EAT THE SHELL. It won't hurt you, but it really doesn't taste all the appetizing. Discard the empty shell and repeat with a fresh peanut from what ever container you've put them in. They store for several days in the refrigerator and heat up just as well in the microwave or a few minutes on the stove. You can also freeze them for longer keeping.
Of course it is only January and we are in the Northern half of the country, so I have a long wait until my next treat of boiled peanuts. But for those of you who have never tried them, don't be scared. It's definitely different. But once you get past the texture difference and stop expecting the hard, crunchy, roasted variety of peanuts, I am quite sure you will love them boiled.