Depending upon geography, boiled peanuts might be an acquired taste, but in the South, boiled peanuts are a delicious treat enjoyed by generations at family gatherings, celebrations and festivals.
In South Carolina, the boiled peanut is the official state snack food, emphasizing the cultural and historical significance of this humble Southern staple.
By most accounts, boiled peanuts came to the United States from Africa, but rose in popularity after the Civil War. Confederate soldiers boiled the peanuts in salt as a way of sanitizing and preserving an important source of protein when food supplies were short. Back home, they introduced boiled peanuts, nicknamed goobers, to their families and communities.
Since the 19th century, all across the South, peanut boils occurred after the annual harvest and provided an opportunity for a social gathering and celebration. Southern families still boil peanuts at reunions and other events, but the snack is more widely available from roadside stands that dot the South’s highways and byways. Stands in South Carolina include Timbos in Charleston, The Peanut Man at Traveler’s Rest and 50-year-old Hucks Produce off Highway 78 in Ladson, each serving the steaming hot, salty snack in simple brown paper bags.
It’s as easy as boiling water, and yet not so much. It takes the right amount of water, the right amount of salt, the right cooking time and, most important, the right peanut – a raw, green peanut, freshly dug. Dried peanuts aren’t the same, and don’t even try boiling a roasted peanut.
These days, some people add liquid smoke or Cajun spices. Entries in the first annual Bluffton Boilers competition, held in August 2012, included peanuts boiled in coffee, pickle juice and even whiskey.
The annual South Carolina Peanut Party in Pelion, celebrating its 31st year, is the state’s largest celebration of the boiled peanut. Up to 130 bushels, roughly 2.5 tons, of green peanuts are boiled at the festival annually – the most popular being those boiled in salted water.