Boiled peanuts are a traditional snack in southern States like the Carolinas, Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi. I had my first taste in Georgia on St. Simons Island. From May through November, you’re sure to see roadside stands ranging from woodsheds to shiny trailers selling fresh boiled peanuts. Peanuts prepared in this way start off as freshly harvested green (raw) nuts which are then boiled in salty water for hours outdoors over a fire. The shells turn soggy, and the peanuts take on a fresh legume texture yielding a lighter flavor than dried.
One of the drawbacks of boiled peanuts is that they have a very short shelf life unless refrigerated or frozen. If you leave them out on the kitchen counter for 3 to 4 days, they become slimy and smelly!
No one knows just why southerners started boiling peanuts or who was the first to boil them. With origins in Africa, it is believed that boiled peanuts have been a southern institution since at least the Civil War (1861-1865), when Union General William T. Sherman (1820-1891) led his troops on their march through Georgia. Since bread and meat were scarce, Confederate troops were often malnourished and peanuts were a crucial source of protein. Soldiers roasted the peanuts over campfires or boiled them. Georgia soldiers in particular were dubbed “goober grabbers.” Adding salt to the boiling water preserved them for up to seven days in their mess kits.
Photo courtesy of Steve Mirsky