Repository of history

Published 4:58 pm Friday, August 31, 2018

True treasures are often unappreciated by the ignorant. And so it is with boiled peanuts.

  The world knows all about what were known in an earlier, more innocent day as “parched peanuts,” even in all their modern guises:

The Old Reliable—the ordinary, roasted, circus and ballpark peanuts, merely dusted off and roasted au naturel in their shells, are at their prime when packaged still hot in a nickel-sized paper bag, preferably brown. The paper bag has a complementary aroma that lends support to the natural fragrance of the roasted nuts and their shells. The only superior packaging is a red-and-white-striped paper bag, which doesn’t improve the aroma but adds a lot of style. The earthy fragrance of the roasted hulls is redolent of a field of freshly dug peanuts. These hull-roasted nuts are best eaten in bleachers, in Texas-style saloons and in other venues where the hulls can be cracked open, emptied and flung to the floor.

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Brine roasted—a process of roasting whole, cleaned but shell-on nuts that have been first pressure-impregnated in brine. It’s a fancy, salted variation of the ballpark peanut.

Toasted peanuts—which are of two major types: redskins, where the thin red skin is left on the nuts, adding a distinctive flavor but requiring a substantial amount of after munching tooth care; and shelled, bald peanuts, the P.O.N (Pure Old Nut), to borrow from archaic sugarcane terminology. These range from those that are simply roasted in an oven to those that are roasted in all manner of extraordinary contraptions—conveyor ovens, rotating drums, infrared, maybe even sound and laser. Both are usually salted while hot. There is a distinct flavor difference between the nuts roasted in their hulls, those roasted in red-skins, and shelled peanuts. The latter are preferred for the southern custom of immersing in a Co’Cola, Pepsi or Nehi orange, however. The redskins tend to separate from their nuts and chug up the neck of the bottle.

Lard lovers’ specials—deep fried peanuts, glistening with oil and bursting with flavor (actually, fried in peanut oil, but lard sounds pretty good). Taste-wise, these are much like ordinary toasted redskins or shelled nuts, but purists say the deep frying locks in all of the volatile aromatics and subtle flavors.

Candied peanuts-–redskins toasted in a frying pan in a little sugar and water, so they come with a pink granulated sugar coating. Put one in your mouth and you are on the midway, listening to the calliope and the sideshow barker.

There are all sorts of other specialty roasts and toasts, now—dry toasted, vacuum roasted, honey roasted, sugar-sprinkled, blanched (bleaugh), etc. Most of them are at least interesting. Through the miracles of modern science, all of these are available all year long.

But the queen of the peanut patch arrives only now: the freshly dug, green, boiled peanut. Much maligned and rejected by those of unfortunate location of birth, this noble nut embodies all of the juices of southern soil and atmosphere, a legacy of more than a century of culture and history contained inside a succulent, briny hull.

Pull up a stool and pass the bowl. We’ll sweep out the hulls later.