In less than thirty seconds, my first taste of a peanut boiled on Mississippi land shattered my sorry expectations and made this food my new, healthy snack obsession. Since the first time I met Anjie Price five years ago in Nicaragua, she has been telling me about boiled peanuts. I was fascinated by what she described as a quintessential dish in her Mississippi hometown, and a widespread southern mainstay for any backyard barbecue or celebration.
For years I have been tormented with curiosity. I thought, “how on earth could a boiled peanut bring any charm or flavor to the table?” I love peanuts just as much as any American in my generation, but I admit I imagined sad, shriveled rocks, heavily salted or spiced to help swallow them down. After half a decade of waiting, I finally had the chance to taste for myself at Anjie and Noel’s wedding. As the Mississippian-Nicaraguan pair sealed their love and marked the beginning of a new chapter together, I wedded myself to at least three pounds of boiled peanuts in a prolonged ceremony of snacking.
A boiled peanut is like the love child of a new, baby potato and a freshly shucked lima bean, dressed in salt or Cajun spice. Like pistachios, they require addictive shell-popping, worth the effort for every plump, juicy, flavor-bursting morsel. The beauty is in its simple preparation: salt, boiling water and peanuts.
Bobby and I arrived early at Anjie’s family home, immediately intrigued by the station Uncle O had set up in the sun-flooded field. A propane tank fed a bubbling stockpot brimming with peanuts in the shell, all surrounded by a metallic shield to protect the flame from the wind. For comfort, Uncle O had a stand from which his stirring utensils hung, and a colander to drain the finished peanuts and transfer them to a second bowl. A jumbo-sized box of Morton’s salt sat next to the pot.
Uncle O has been cooking since he was thirteen, and offered various ways to make boiled peanuts with even more fanfare, like Cajun spice with crawfish and shrimp. Tantalizing! New mission: locate green peanuts in Ithaca, New York and try this gourmet version immediately.
The peanut pot was the center of the pre-wedding action, around which I shared warming and rich conversations with various members of Anjie’s close-knit, country-born family. At one point three strapping grandfathers compared the height of this year’s okra plants, stretching their arms towards the expansive, bluebird sky. As garden-lovers, they told me about other staples they grew, like collard and turnip greens. There was an exchange over the best way to keep the hay bales dry this year, showing purpose to the picturesque cinnamon-rolls dotting the wavy fields. I learned of her great-uncle’s forays to the north, where he had the best spaghetti and meatballs he had ever tasted in Providence, Rhode Island, just after marrying his wife of sixty-two years. I asked them the key to their success, and his wife joked, “he stayed outside, I stayed inside! Simple as that.” Nearly blind, she still puts up the harvest for the winter season. This reminded me that Anjie’s mother had a famous store room of canned fruits and vegetables, and upon asking her to take a peek, I quickly found myself hugging an armful of preserves to take home: fig and strawberry jam, muscadine jelly, hot pepper jelly, tomatoes and garlic-pepper pickles.
Oh, but I fell in love with the Prices and the Montoyas! It was gorgeous to watch Anjie and Noel’s big, loyal families blend with such seamless grace. Despite cultural and geographic differences, they share a rural upbringing, outrageous musical talent, and a generous and gracious perspective on life. They showed everyone, and each other, that people are people – all over the world! We share happiness and sorrows, laughter and tears, professions and passions. The opportunity to marry cultures through love and genuine connection is rare, and inspiring for a world that will increasingly benefit from joining together and celebrating peak moments like a wedding or the simple snap-and-chat of boiled peanuts.
The longer the peanuts cook, the softer and saltier they will become. The shells will also become softer, making it messier to pop open and nosh - I would err on the side of harder shells. Check a few to see how the texture is on the inside. If the peanuts are still crisp and crunchy, they need to cook longer. Although, Uncle O did say that peanuts can be eaten raw (referred to as "green," though tan in color) at the risk of a bloated stomach, a common cause of eating legumes. Remember the rhyme? Beans, beans they make you... Multiply this recipe depending on how many people you plan to feed, and each time you make them, experiment with the amount of salt and other spices you add to find your sweet spot.
- Green peanuts - 2 pounds
- Kosher salt - 1/2 cup
- Water - 8 cups
- Rinse unshelled, raw peanuts in water.
- Combine ingredients in a large stockpot and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce the heat to a low boil or vigorous simmer.
- Boil for about 2 hours, or more, until the peanuts reach the desired softness.
- Drain the peanuts and devour. You can store them in the refrigerator to eat within the next few days, but they won't be as good when they dry out.