Boiled Peanuts – A Southern Tradition
Learn all about boiled peanuts, its history and an easy recipe.
Nick and I have lived in South Carolina for over four months now and couldn’t help but notice all of the Hot Boiled Peanut stands all over the road sides. Neither of us have even heard of such a thing before we moved south (we’re from Minnesota).
Boiled peanuts have long been one of those iconic foods that Southerners love and Yankees find rather baffling and intriguing. Scroll down to learn how to make boiled peanuts at home…
If you’re one of the many people that think peanuts grow on trees
than we need to start by clearing things up a little first.
Peanuts are more like peas than nuts.
Actually, they are legumes and grow on low, green vines. Now get ready for the weird part, after pollination, the flower stalks bend down and burrow into the earth, where the fruit develops underground into the 1 to 2 inch long pods we know and love as a peanut.
So called ‘green’ (which means they are fresh) peanuts are highly perishable. That’s why you can only find green peanuts during harvest time which runs from August through October.
Make At Home Boiled Peanut Recipe
To boil peanuts you simply fill a big pot of salted water, add the peanuts and boil them until they’re done. Voila! Boiled Peanuts. Easy, right?
Note: The desired ratio for South Carolina style boiled peanuts is 1/2 cup of salt to each gallon of water.
We also gathered a few more tips and tricks from some Southern Boiled Peanut Pros:
- Keep the peanuts submerged with a heavy plate while boiling, the little nutters like to rise.
- Note the water level at the beginning on the side of the pot and maintain volume by adding more water and salt as needed. The water should taste like ocean water.
- It takes a couple of hours to boil the peanuts to the verge of falling apart, which is just right.
- Let your taste buds be your guide and sample a nut or two every hour until they are boiled the way you like them.
The History Behind The Boiled Peanut
Though boiled peanuts are now enjoyed throughout a broad swath of the South, their roots run deepest right here in South Carolina. They arrived in the Lowcountry via a circuitous route. The plant originated in South America, and the Portuguese took it to Africa around 1500, just after they first came into contact with it in Brazil.
The legume spread quickly across Africa, becoming so widely used that botanists believed the plant must have originated there. The peanut was very similar to the indigenous African groundnut, a staple of the local diet, and thanks to its higher oil content and easier cultivation it soon eclipsed its indigenous counterpart.
Peanuts arrived in the South sometime in the 18th century on slave ships, which were frequently provisioned with them for the voyage. In his 1809 history of South Carolina, David Ramsey noted that peanuts were “planted in small patches chiefly by the Negroes for market” and sold for five shillings per bushel. During this period, they were widely referred to as ground-nuts, ground peas, and goobers, a term derived from the Angolan word giguba.
As with other African culinary staples like okra and black-eyed peas, peanuts eventually became part of the diets of white Carolinians, too. Sara Ruthledge’s 1847 Carolina Housewife includes a recipe for soup of mashed groundnuts with oysters and a “seed-pepper or two” as well as a “cheese cake” that starts with a pound of blanched and finely-beaten groundnuts along with plenty of eggs, sugar, and butter.
Numerous accounts have claimed that the practice of boiling peanuts began with Confederate soldiers during the Civil War. Desperately hungry and cut off from food supplies, the tale goes, soldiers took to digging up raw peanuts and boiling them. They took a liking to the improvisation and kept eating them after the war was over.
Like most tales of foods being ‘invented’ during wartime, this one is not true. Confederate soldiers certainly augmented their rations with peanuts, as memorialized in the classic Civil War ditty “Peas, peas, peas, peas / Eating goober peas / Goodness how delicious / Eating goober peas”. But African Americans had been boiling peanuts in the South for a long time.
Peanuts had been eaten boiled for centuries in Africa, and it seems to have been a common way of preparing them in antebellum South Carolina when they were green and fresh out of the ground. W. H. Shelton, a Union soldier who was captured in 1864, escaped from a prison camp in Columbia. As he made his way eastward toward Charleston, he was given food by some of the African-American residents he encountered. In his account of his escape, he noted that he was provided on multiple occasions “boiled peanuts, which was a favorite way of cooking when the bean was too green to bake”.
During the second half of the 19th century, peanuts became one of the country’s most popular snack foods, but in the roasted, not boiled, form.
Read the rest of the Boiled Peanut History article by Robert Moss.
Give this southern tradition a try and cook up a batch of boiled peanuts soon.
If you live in South Carolina or plan to visit, be sure to stop by one of the many ‘Hot Boiled Peanut’ stands along the road. You will not be disappointed.
Have you ever tried this Southern treat of boiled peanuts? Leave us a comment below.