Sometimes you feel like a nut,

sometimes NOT!

by Deborah Fagan Carpenter



As a child growing up in the 1950s, one of the highlights of an automobile trip, was spotting the occasional roadside fruit and vegetable stand that touted “BOILED PEANUTS.” Sometimes the peanuts would be in small, paper bags alongside the beans and tomatoes and other produce in the market, and sometimes there would be a large pot, teeming with peanuts swimming in dark, salty, water, cooking on an outdoor brick fireplace. In that case, our parents would tell the owner how much they wanted, and he or she would scoop them into the paper bags.

Back on the highway with our bags of nuts, we’d crack each one open with our teeth, suck the juice, savor the large, moist meat, and then throw the empty shells out of the car window. While of course, the shells are biodegradable (not a word anyone knew back then) and would soon turn to dust, today, throwing them out of the car window would probably secure a $50 littering fine, and even at that time, was doubtless “tacky.” But the process of eating them in the car was half the pleasure, I think.


In those early days of childhood, late summer and early fall were marked by the arrival of pomegranates, muscadines, quince, and green peanuts. The peanuts were more often than not parched, but for me, boiled peanuts was at the top of the autumn snack list, and it was also something I thought all Southerners appreciated.

To my astonishment, it has recently come to my attention that not all Southerners love, or can even tolerate, boiled peanuts! The reality of this has not only made me question my own culinary judgement, but it has highlighted the fact that not all Southerners are created equal. We do not all eat watermelon, we do not all drink our tea sweetened, and we do not all love barbeque. What other problematic behavior could be lurking?

I guess that’s why God made chocolate AND vanilla. But before boiled peanut haters write them off completely, consider these facts: Boiled peanuts are a healthy snack. Boiled peanuts have more nutritional value than either raw or parched nuts because the process of boiling them draws the antioxidants from the shell, giving the boiled nuts four times the amount of antioxidants than they have raw or parched. But even better, boiled peanuts have almost half the calories of ones that are parched—90 calories per ounce, as compared to 170 calories per ounce.

You don’t have to seek a roadside stand in order to enjoy the tasty legumes. (Yes, that’s right; peanuts aren’t nuts at all, but rather, beans.) While it takes a little time and patience to boil nuts at home, it’s worth the effort for the FEW of you who like them. On a recent Sunday afternoon, I washed two pounds of raw nuts, covered them with water in a large pot, brought them to a boil, added one fourth cup of salt, and after reducing the heat to medium, cooked them for approximately three hours. After the first hour or so, I began testing them for doneness every 30 minutes, and the result was nuts that had a little “crunch” left in them, as opposed to ones that were cooked until they were really soft, as they’re often prepared.

Not ONE of my Southern friends was open to the idea of sharing the healthy, low calorie, good for your heart, protein packed, antioxidant rich, salty, but slightly sweet, delicious treats with me, and I’m sorry for their loss. Clearly, it’s an acquired taste.


Roadside Market Photo from

Raw Peanuts from Deborah Fagan Carpenter

Boiled Peanuts from Deborah Fagan Carpenter



12 thoughts on “Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes NOT!

  1. Yancey Tallent

    Are you kidding!!! Boiled peanuts were: and still are the elixir of my fondest dreams!!! In fact, if I had one food that I could continually eat indefinitely – it would be boiled peanuts. Now, not just everyone knows how a GOOD boiled peanut should look or how it should taste. However, being the professional boiled nut connoisseur that I am – I can confidently report that an acceptable boiled peanut should have cooked and soaked in brine long enough to turn grayish brown, have a soft but firm wet shell, and closed or opened should be filled with rich salty au jus when retrieved from the soak. If it’s boiled to perfection, there is a certain sound to the pop of a peanut when you crack it open with your teeth. I can’t tell you exactly what it is, but if you ever hear it and identify it, you’ll never forget it. The juice should never be discarded from its shell but rather sucked out rhythmically with a confident unacceptable slurp that only a peanut enthusiast could appreciate. With the juice gone, the nut is then briskly plucked from its shell with the teeth and thrown back on the tongue for a proper chewing. Yes, it’s an art… just like eating shrimp with the heads on or briskly foraging through an artichoke’s leaves with lemon and butter on the side.

    And as far as etiquette goes when disposing of shells … well out of a car window, the perfect method is – crack, suck and deliver to the tongue with the right hand and toss or discard the empty shell out of the window with the left – while carefully steering your car with your left forearm. This technique is not perfected until the motion from one hand to the other hand is so fluid that your car never indicates a single dip or swerve from your busy work.

    As for individual preferences: I have never had a crunchy boiled peanut that I totally approved; not a single one that I didn’t think, “Hmph! Took ’em off the stove too soon or should have let ’em brine over night!” So for all the squeamish souls out that who have for some reason never had the appropriate experience, or the ones who think they have and passed… I’d love to boil you a proper pot, and then we’d see. Until then, Deborah, the next time we go to “The Shoe”, let’s take a bag of green ones and give it a go. 🙂
    All in fun,

    1. I’m laughing so hard, Yancey! You should have written this article!!!!!
      Yes, I’m game for your version at the lake!!!

  2. Joe Goodell

    Deborah : good narrative, good photos, does tell the traveler how to get there? (I couldn’t bring up the site.) I’m on the way equipped with a zeal for peanuts and your flavorsome story!

    1. Glad you liked it Joe. I actually Googled Roadside Stands to find that photo, and this was one result. It listed Pinterest as the source, but nothing past that. Sometimes Pinterest pins have detailed information, sometimes nothing. You might go to the Search Bar on the Pinterest site and type in Roadside Stands. It will likely show several different boards, with multiple pins on the topic, that you can scroll through and find one that might be somewhere near you. Happy Hunting!

  3. Randall O'Brien

    Salivating down memory lane. Smells, sights, tastes. O my.

    Such a delicious serving of nostalgia, Deb!

    1. Does take you right back home, doesn’t it?

  4. jimmy crosthwait

    now that you’ve filled us in on boiled peanuts…. what’s the scoop on possum pies?

  5. Nell Fuller

    I wish we lived closer. We would have been happy to help you enjoy your treat! I have occasionally gotten so desperate I have bought them CANNED at the grocery store. My daddy loved parched peanuts so Mama made them for him fresh every few days. Happy memories!

    1. Maybe we can enjoy some in the Spring! 🙂

  6. Maggie Watkins

    Great memories! My Daddy always cooked his own in large quantities and froze them in plastic bags so he never ran out. We would thaw some out to eat while watching Hit Parade or something on tv. As an adult I haven’t been very fond of them. I appreciate your nutritional info on these nuts. I think somewhere I got some misinformation about their health value. Next time I’m in the produce section I may load up on some and put the hot water on the stove when I get home. I may even freeze some for the winter months.

    1. Thanks Maggie! I just learned yesterday that they freeze well. Very exciting, since nobody I know wants any of them! :-/

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