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A few words about the appeal of boiled peanuts

By Ralph Hood

Boiled peanuts will be the death of me yet.

Although the surgeon general has not yet announced it, boiled peanuts are addictive. I quit smoking decades ago, but for the life of me, I can’t stay off boiled peanuts.

It always starts the same way. I am driving along in rural Alabama, minding my own business, when the sign appears: “BOILED P-NUTS 3 MILES.” I vow not to stop. At the next sign, “BOILED P-NUTS 2 MILES,” my will power remains strong.

I make it by the “1 MILE” sign just fine, happy in the knowledge that I am, for the first time in my life, not going to stop at a boiled peanut stand. Then comes the sign that gets me: “HOT FRESH BOILED P-NUTS RIGHT HERE.” It’s not the “HOT” or “FRESH” that does me in. It’s the “RIGHT HERE” that gets me every time.

At the last second I hit the brakes and slide up to the boiled peanut stand. This neither irritates nor surprises the peanut man. He’s seen addicts before and recognizes a serious customer when he sees one.

There are boiled peanut stands, and then there are boiled peanut stands. The best have a fifty-five gallon drum over a fire. Steam hovers above and a tantalizing salty aroma demolishes any will power that might have survived the “RIGHT HERE” sign.

A dark liquid simmers in the drum. My wife, who is confused about a lot of things, describes this beautiful broth as “yucky.” This same woman happily eats beets, for crying out loud! There is no accounting for the taste of some people.

The peanut man, anxious to close his sale, dips up a batch of peanuts, much as a wine steward holds up a cork for sniffing. His dipper is an old metal pot with nail holes poked in the bottom. I guess it’s possible to get decent boiled peanuts from a store-bought dipper, but I’d be suspicious of any peanut man who didn’t have an old pot with nail holes in it. He probably wouldn’t be serious about the boiled peanut business.

(You can also buy boiled peanuts from a refrigerator, and there are even canned boiled peanuts. These, of course, are not the real thing at all, but just kept around to sell to Yankees and other foreigners).

To shorten an already long story, I head on down the road with a huge bag of boiled peanuts, and therein lies the danger.

It is impossible to shell boiled peanuts and stuff them into one’s mouth fast enough to satisfy one’s craving, which intensifies as more peanuts are eaten. Trying to shell, stuff and eat while driving on a two-lane country road (there are no P-NUT stands on the interstate) is a hazardous act ranking right up there with nude motorcycle racing.

I have at times found it necessary to pull off the road to devote my full attention to boiled peanut eating.

After a big bag of boiled peanuts, I usually swear off of them forever. This vow will be faithfully observed until the next “RIGHT HERE” sign.