Boiled Peanuts: An Acquired Taste Worth Having

boiled peanuts

“Peas, peas, peas, peas

Eating goober peas

Goodness, how delicious,

Eating goober peas.”

     ~Traditional folk song

I just can’t help myself…there are certain delicacies in life that beckon me to partake, even though I have absolutely no business doing it.

Funnel cakes that tickle my taste buds as I stroll along the midway of the local county fair. An ice cold beer in a mug so frosty cold that ice crystals form along the sides of the glass, gulped down after a sweaty round of golf – regardless of how many strokes I took in that particular game. The lure of the Spinx convenience store and the thought of the savory, spicy chicken gizzards, fried to a perfect golden brown. This chewy delight literally makes my jaw ach because of the sheer number of nuggets that I engulf after being laced with succulent bright yellow mustard.

However, of all the fun, frivolous, far from fancy foods that I have learned to enjoy in time, nothing compares to the irresistible magnetic pull I experience when I see the hand scribbled sign for that sultry southern delicacy: Boiled Peanuts. As I cruise along on my day off, looking for some local adventure, an exhilarating hike along the local mountain lake, or a fall festival decorated with plump pumpkins and hay-stuffed scarecrows, or some quaint town square with window shopping galore, inevitably I run across this tantalizingly tortuous tidbit that I cannot resist.

Now understand, it was not always like this. My first experience with the soggy goober pea, was almost 30 years ago when I first moved to this little piece of heaven I call home. Pickens County, South Carolina is surrounded by and littered with mountains, creeks, and trails.  It’s a veritable small-town Americana, with festivals and back roads prolific enough that a lifetime of rambling could not begin to explore.

boiled peanuts

When I first popped that mushy morsel in my pie hole, I nearly gagged.  Bloated tick was the first thing that came to mind to describe that nasty delicacy. Who in their right mind ever thought of taking that shell-shrouded “monkey nut” and drowning it in tannic brown water, then dousing it with God-only-knows what spice concoction heating it to simmering, slowly infusing the little Pindar until it mushes in your mouth. I was prepared to never, ever ingest another as long as I lived.

However, like most acquired tastes, there has to be a second try. One brisk fall morning as I headed here and there along Scenic Highway 11, the chill was just right to entice me into something warm and spicy to snack on. Just a smidgen of something to calm the cravings that come with the slow wonderings of a carefree road trip.

Like a smack in the kisser, I saw the roadside shack with the bubbling caldron of deliciousness that I had as yet come to believe in. Thinking that the convenient vendor might have something besides the peanut porridge of poison, I stopped in. A faint aroma of angel’s perfume filled the air. A scent every bit as pleasant as bacon cooking on a camp stove in the great outdoors, but different. The perfect blend of mountain air infused with bold spices and subtle surprises that I just had to discover.

The gnarled old man with shinny eyes was perched over the peanut pot with ladle in hand ready to serve up the churning concoction. I steeled myself with the idea that maybe the batch I had tried the first go-round was somehow mismanaged.  “I’ll take a small, please,” fell on deaf ears. Pulling out a one-size fits all Styrofoam cup big enough to hold the nearby creek cascading down the side of the mountain, he heaped it full. After placing it in a paper bag, he proceeded to add a few more for good measure.

I pried off the sodden outer shell and nibbled at the brine soaked seed inside.  Kaboom! Like a cannon shot in the darkness, a bombardment of Cajun flavor struck my tongue – completely hiding yet caressing the soft textured nut.  In a splendid bouquet of flavor I swished the ground nut to and fro, suckling it with such vigor as to deplete every visage of flavor from the now mangled pellet.

I was hooked.  I couldn’t eat the boiled bastion of perfection fast enough. If the cup that had been cradling these beauties had been digestible it to would have been hungrily consumed. I had readily acquired the taste.

I wish I could say that it was a fluke encounter. A one-and-done experience, and that I can now tool on past the Peanut Man’s legume lair perched atop Stumphouse Mountain off Hwy 28.  But alas I’m doomed to wonder the infinite highways and byways of the Carolinas in search of the perfect peanuty pleasure. It’s the goober pea of all goober peas, the nutty hors d’oeuvres that I simply cannot ignore. And sad as it is to admit, I’m all right with that!

“I hate television. I hate it as much as peanuts. But I can’t stop eating peanuts.”
     ~Orson Welles