If you grew up in the South Eastern part of the United States, (what my daddy refers to as ‘God’s country’), you get all giddy at the sight of a pot-bellied man stirring a kettle of boiling peanuts by the road-side; if he is chewing tobacco and sporting overalls-all the better.
The kettle holds a salty, velvety, steaming tonic for the soul. I sometimes call them Collard-Green Caviar and they are pronounced, bald peanuts. The recipe is simple which I’ll share later, and involves simply: raw peanuts simmering for a few hours in salt.
My kids don’t even know they are otherwise known as boiled peanuts. They’ll ask me: “Mama, could you make us some of your bald peanuts?”
I live up North now which is fresh out of pudgy men dripping sweat over vats of peanut-gold. Instead, people above the Carolinas are stocked with road side snow-cone shacks, featuring at least thirty flavor varieties; which I reckon is some kind of consolation. They are served by high-school girls- their locks tied up in ribbons, and their neon bikini strings roped round their slender necks. They chew large wads of gum and smile defiantly despite whiteheads erupting from chins and foreheads. I love snow-cone princess, but they are simply no match for pot-bellied entrepreneurs operating out of their mud-crusted giddy-up trucks.
Several weeks ago, my dear friend from Winter Garden, who was my friend long before Facebook announced the fact, reminded me of those roadside boiled peanut stands. As a status update, one sunny day, I dutifully reported the good fortune of spending a peaceful afternoon on the back porch with my kids, accompanied by a pitcher of sweat tea and a whole vat of bald peanuts, which I had prepared during the morning and early afternoon.
Every now and then, a mercy-laden breeze would drift from yonder over our little plot of joy- bringing with it sweet perfumes of Spring, as if to say, you made it through another cold winter, it’s all sunshine and cricket songs, picnic baskets and long days, green grass and bare feet. It’s days like that which gave inspiration to Travis Tritt’s song: It’s a Great Day to Be Alive: You know the sun’s still shinin’ when I close my eyes; they’re some hard times in the neighborhood but why can’t every day be just as good.
He should have written about boiled peanuts instead of rice.
I thanked Allah for the decent, simple pleasures of life, which cost just a trifle, and for the good health of all of us to enjoy them. Not long after, a bright, red cardinal and his muted, dust-colored bride swept over the lawn and pecked at the earth. I imagined them feasting on their own version of bald peanuts.
I was giddy to share my good fortune with friends, via Facebook – many scattered far and wide over time zones and even continents. My good friend from Winter Garden, made a very fitting observation. She pitied me for resorting to boiling my peanuts on my own stove when:
We can get ours from fellow redneck sitting under an umbrella with a vat of boiled peanuts on a burner on the side of the road! When I first read your status I thought, she must be in Winter Garden:)
After that comment I wanted to click my bare feet three times and wake up under the fierce rays of the Florida sun, tucked under a potent shade tree, next to a boiled peanut stand. I was feeling sorry for myself that I had to get my green peanuts at the local Asian market, put them on a conveyor belt and take the change from a five foot tall Korean woman, which is about as far away from a collard green mascot as you can get!
You never know what you’ll miss until you look around and realize that even if you start walking toward it, barefoot, until your feet crack and bleed, you wouldn’t get near enough. Then you miss it with a crazed lonesomeness that won’t sway to any distraction, not even a majestic, brightly colored snow cone from a woman-child who can sing all the words to a Lady Gaga song.
I didn’t even know that bald peanuts are a collard green people’s delicacy until I moved North. Do ya’ll know who told me? It was a Yankee! Can you believe?! It’s true. A dear friend, raised up North, asked me if I’d ever eaten a boiled peanut. I thought, well, sure hasn’t everybody?! She might as well have asked me if I’d ever eaten a boiled egg. Dogone, she awakened me to the reality that boiled peanuts are the pride of collard-green civilization.
She said a friend of hers, who grew up in the south, cooked her up a batch once and she loved them! That made me so stinkin’ jealous. I wanted to be the Collard Green ambassador to have introduced her to that charming, simple dish.
So, while I sulked over my childhood friend’s bragging rights, the thought occurred to me that at least I could profit from the thrill of finding an unsuspecting Yankee, and converting her to bald peanuts.
So, the next day, I simmered another pot. I already had the perfect candidate– a friend born and bred in Pennsylvania- a convert to Islam like me, whose mama and daddy were also born and bred, and many of their relatives before that, in Pennsylvania. She isn’t just from Pennsylvania, she’s from the middle of it – rolling hills and Amish-made quilts. You don’t get more Yankee than that! I could be close to certain that she had never eaten a boiled peanut. She’s also very adventurous, gutsy and inquisitive, so I could also be near certain she would oblige my request for just one bite.
Now, she’s not Southern, so she didn’t eat one and bust out with a declaration, like: Well, I declare, that is the tastiest thing I’ve ever had in my mouth!!!! Yankees don’t substitute exclamation points for periods as readily – hooting and hollering and letting everyone on the block know that they are having a good time and won’t ya’ll come over and join us!!!!
No, Yankees are a bit more sober which requires getting to know and translate their expressions into collard-green lingo. If a Yankee simply cracks a smile and head-nods in agreement – that is the same as a slew of exclamation points.
It didn’t take my good friend long to become addicted to bald peanuts. She even made a trip to the same Asian market that week to buy a batch and boil some at home for her husband. That was my first convert. I checked it off my list of things to do before I die.
It gets even better. A few days later I was at a gathering of Muslim women and an American friend of Syrian descent gave me two thumbs up on bald peanuts. How did she know about them? Well, of course, my Yankee friend told her. Afterward, she went out and bought herself a batch to boil for her visiting uncle and the rest of her family. They were all hooked too! Another friend, who grew up in New Orleans, in a large Palestinian family, was clueless about boiled peanuts so I dispatched some to her house as well.
I was beside myself; indeed, euphoric. I’d set out to convert one person and now I had lots more. It was a bald peanut revolution. How far could this go? I thought maybe I ought to open my own peanut stand. I’d be the first collard green lady in hijab to make Yankees swoon.
The night drew on and there was yet a lonesome woman at the gathering who had never tasted a bald peanut. She is a Uyghur Muslim raised in China, fluent in several languages; including, Chinese, Turkish and English. She’s a smart cookie is what I’m trying to say, and I like her plenty; not only for the fact that she’s been informed by leading a very fascinating life, but because she doesn’t take herself or others too seriously. In fact, I took an easy liking to her which is why it was so important to me that she adore the southern pastime of munching on bald peanuts.
When it comes to bald peanuts, companionship counts. It is a dish best shared with family and close friends, who don’t require small talk or pretension. This way, you can pop the whole peanut in your mouth and expertly extract the liquid, salty gold inside with awkward contortions of your mouth; then, just spit the shell back out- covered in the sheen of your own saliva, and open it to savor the tender peanut-pearls inside.
Digging into a bowl of bald peanuts makes you want to cut past all the fluff. The joy of rolling a soft peanut shell around your mouth is like soaking in an anti-venom for stress. It makes you feel settled down and nostalgic; you don’t want to have that vibration interrupted by the kind of person who’d likely throw a hissy fit over the temporary breach of hygiene and poise required to really savor this collard-green caviar.
When I presented this friend with a cup of boiled peanuts she wowed me by picking one up like she’d done it a thousand times and popping the whole thing in her mouth! Most newbies feel obliged to feign daintiness the first time, but she leapt directly into the spirit of eating bald peanuts, which confirmed my suspicion that I have good taste in people. There could not have been a better finale to my week-long stint of converting my corner of the world to collard –green goodness. The encore was that two weeks later, my Pennsylvania-Yankee friend came over. We sat on the back porch with our kids on a rare, lazy afternoon and devoured a whole stock pot of bald peanuts. We talked about everything and nothing, which is the best conversation for such an occasion. She challenged me to try a Pennsylvania whoopee pie to savor the flavor of her own people. I am waiting for her to cook me up a batch from her mom’s recipe (wink, wink if she is reading this).
If you’re collard green, I challenge you to out-match my conversion rate so far. On the other hand if you want to know what all the fuss is about then try cooking up a batch. Here is the recipe. It’s as simple as this:
Get five bulging handfuls of fresh green peanuts;
Put em’ in a tall pot and cover with water like you plan to make soup;
Throw in a ½ cup of salt to start;
Turn the fire up high and wait for them to boil.
After they have boiled for 20 minutes or so, turn it down to medium heat and let them continue boiling.
Go invite someone over and think about how nice it will be to enjoy your bald peanuts with that person. Don’t forget to make a pitcher of sweet tea and cool in the refrigerator.
Turn the heat to low and let it marinate in its own broth. The peanuts will become saltier the longer they languish in the broth and will taste their best 5-6 hours after you started cooking them in the first place. Don’t add more salt until you are ready to eat. If it is not salty enough, add enough to taste and then simmer for another ten minutes.
Step 4: (optional)
Dig up a pair of overalls, tussle your hair to look haggard, make a quick homemade sign: ‘Boiled Peanuts 4 Sale,’ then stand on the road-side next to a pick-up truck. Don’t wave folks over; infact, act like you don’t care. A real Collard-Green mascot knows that he doesn’t have to pitch a bald peanut. It’s just that good. See if you get any takers and let me know.
I double dawg dare ya!