How did it get to be the end of summer? I hate to say it, but I feel like I somehow missed summer. I'm on vacation in South Carolina this week, so let's see if I can fit three months of missed summer into 9 days away from my desk, shall we? Because nothing says summer in South Carolina quite like boiled peanuts, I thought I would share the Holmes family recipe for that most Southern of delicacies.
Little known fact: boiled peanuts are the state snack of South Carolina, an honor the esteemed goober pea has held since 2006. (My non-Southern husband tells me that I may need to define "goober pea." I refer you to Johnny Cash and Burl Ives, here.) You can find them in gas stations, shacks alongside the road, or catalogs. My family has been known to pull over on the side of the road for a "HOT BOILED PEANUTS" sign, sometimes a mere 10 minutes into family road trips. A road trip without boiled peanuts is not worth taking, after all.
Like many of South Carolina's culinary traditions, the practice of boiling peanuts is believed to have originated in Africa. At lunchtime yesterday, my parents told stories about tobacco market time, when buyers would come to the tobacco auctions and barefoot little boys wearing overalls and caps would run in and out of the stalls of the market selling bags of "bald peanuts!" for ten cents a piece.
In the south, you can find green peanuts* in the markets starting in May, although technically their season is mid-to-late summer through early fall. I have been frantically googling "Where to buy green peanuts in Los Angeles" since June, to no avail, but just last weekend found them at my local farmer's market, where I was told that California peanut season runs August-September. I bought all the green peanuts the nice farmer from Fresno had, which prompted him to say "You must be Southern." What, Californians don't faint from joy at the site of little green peanuts? We must change that.
*What is a green peanut, you ask? A green peanut is a fresh, raw peanut that has not been dried or roasted. Its shell will feel fresh, a little damp even-- but not brittle. Brittle shells indicate the peanut has been dried; now, I've never tried boiling dried peanuts before. I understand it can be done, but it takes more time and effort. If you can only find dried peanuts, I refer you to The Lee Brothers Charleston Kitchen for guidance. Do not, under any circumstance, attempt to boil roasted peanuts. I can tell you from personal experience that it will only end in frustration, tears, and a ruined pot. The summer after I graduated from college, I attempted to make boiled peanuts in my tiny Manhattan kitchen. I didn't realize that I had bought roasted peanuts (the sign at the grocery store just said "Peanuts", which I now believe to have been both woefully vague and misleading). I boiled those suckers for 8+ hours before I gave up. My roommate found me in a ball on the floor, snuffling and crying at my homesick failure; I'm sure she thought I was crazy-- she may have been on to something.
Anywho, I digress. If you're heading to any parties this weekend-- particularly ones that involve beaches or boats-- make a batch of boiled peanuts to take with you. They're quite the conversation starter.
- 1.5 lbs green peanuts
- 1/3 C. kosher salt
Rinse the peanuts to dislodge any dirt clinging to the shells. Put in a large pot with enough water to cover the peanuts by an inch or two (they'll float, so use your best judgement). Add salt-- start with a 1/3 C and adjust to taste. You want the water to taste just about like ocean water. If it gets too salty, add more plain water to dilute. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, and boil until the peanuts inside the shells are creamy and tender (this can be anywhere from an hour on up). Once the peanuts have reached the desired consistency, turn off the heat and let them sit until they sink to the bottom of the pot. This is important-- this process allows the peanuts to absorb more of the salty water, which is what gives them their creamy/sweet/salty flavor. I let mine sit for about 2 hours-- taste them periodically while they're sitting, and when they seem just right, transfer them to a container and keep in the fridge. I like to let mine sit with some of the salt water in the container, but that's not crucial.
Now, not to offend anyone's sensibilities, but if you've never had a boiled peanut before, you may need a lesson in how to eat them. Step one: pop open the shell down the seam. I do this with my teeth, but you can also just squeeze with your fingers. Pluck out the peanuts, throw away the shells. Repeat.