Sunday, August 4, 2013

Nutty for Peanuts

If you are from the south, you are a tried and true fan of the legume that makes its home right here in the sunny, warm climes. Also known as earthnuts, ground nuts, goober, goober peas, monkey nuts, pygmy nuts and pig nuts; peanuts are at almost every southern celebration in one form or the other. Even those of us, who hate that other southern legume, the lima bean, love peanuts.

There are three different ways that peanuts are consumed in “these here parts”; roasted, candied and boiled.

Roasted peanuts are the most common type. They are everywhere, all the way from Wrigley Field in Chicago to Higgs Beach Dog Part in Key West Florida. You can find them on Coney Island and Santa Catalina Island; everywhere folks are having fun those roasted peanuts are usually there with them. Personally I’d rather get them in the shells rather than in those small bags that can be bought from vending machines. There is a certain satisfaction to be had from examining that seeming impervious shell to find the perfect place to apply pressure with the thumb and the first finger. Tighter and tighter you squeeze until the shell shatters with a resounding and oh so satisfying snap. All that is left then is to scoop the “innards” out and pop them into your mouth, savoring each satisfying bite until it all gone and you wash it down with sweet tea. I admit that these days the tea is un-sweet, giving in to the demands of an older body, but sweet tea is the perfect companion to a bag of roasted peanuts. Even more than cold beer in a glass with a 1 ½ inch head on it; that is second best.

Candied peanuts are really a sub category of roasted peanuts because all candied peanuts are roasted. There are two main types of candied peanuts; those mixed with molasses and popcorn like Cracker Jack and those included in candy bars or covered in chocolate. Fritz and Louis Rueckheim mass-produced an early version of Cracker Jack and sold it at the first Chicago World's Fair in 1893. At the time, it was a mixture of popcorn, molasses, and peanuts and was called "Candied Popcorn and Peanuts". I used to love gobbling down a box of Cracker Jack until getting to the toy that was always included near the bottom of the box. Of course the drink that went with that had to be a cold bottle of Coke or Pepsi. That just screamed “SUMMER AFTERNOON” at me. Yummy, my mouth is watering now.

When America’s confectioners discovered the peanut, the sweet tooth of every red blooded American boy and girl resonated in unmitigated joy. Heaven on earth for me was a simple peanut covered by milk chocolate, or in later years, rich dark chocolate. It was just too much! All those candy bars; Baby Ruth, Abba-Zabba, Oh Henry, Mr. Goodbar and the penultimate Snickers parade across the American palate. We all knew that it wasn’t good for us. All those warnings about cavities from our parents fell on deaf ears as we chomped our way through truckloads of candy, glorious candy. I have to tell you that we were all in heaven. Then came that rather nefarious candy maker Reese who thought to enclose peanut butter in a half dollar sized coating of milk chocolate and ship them out two cups at a time in bright orange packages. The battle was over, the peanuts had won.

This brings us to boiled peanuts, a true southern delicacy. To be honest, growing up in Florida, I never heard of boiled peanuts, or chili-dogs for that matter. The first few times I saw them, laying there in all their radiant glory glistening in their shells I was hesitant. When my friends opened them and I saw the peanuts had the consistency of cold peas, I thought this could not be good. The urging of my friends to try them, you’ll like them fell on deaf ears. Then at an impromptu party the prettiest girl there decided that it was high time that I tried boiled peanuts. She sat with me and batted her eyes and said; “Try one for me.” Being the red blooded young man that I was, I steeled my nerves popped open a pod and tossed a single slimy, salty peanut into my mouth. “Yowser, what have I been missing!” I thought. No, not the girl, the peanut! That glorious taste of the juices and the soft mushy peanut was a taste made in heaven. I was hooked; I couldn’t get enough boiled peanuts. For the next several months, I made a weekly trip to Cromer’s P-nut Store just a few blocks from my dorm room to feed my boiled peanut habit. Cromer’s had the trade mark phrase “Guaranteed the Worst in Town” which of course was the exact opposite of what their product was. Wow, I am so blessed not to have peanut allergies. To this day, I have no idea of whatever became of that pretty girl, but boiled peanuts are still an integral part of my life. So if you still have not tried boiled peanuts, be sure to do that at the next opportunity. You will not be sorry.

There is one more type of peanut that deserves mention in this peanut story. Of course I am referring to that lovable loser, Charlie Brown, created by Charles M. Schultz. Every day, I look forwards to seeing what Charlie, Lucy, Linus and Snoopy are up to. I guess I am a just a little bit nuts, peanuts, that is. Oh MY!

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