The early stages of the peanut harvest promise tasty season
I grew up with peanuts in my life. They were often referred to as goobers, penders and the toddlers usually just called them nut-nuts. Anyway you look at them, or anyway you prepare them I’m likely to be one of those who devour handfuls at a time.
When I say I grew up with peanuts, it meant what I said. There were usually several long rows of peanuts in our summer garden. When it was harvest time, the plants would be plowed up, or turned up by farm equipment so as not to leave any precious nuts in the ground. Those plants would be piled on the back of the wagon and pulled to the nearest oak that would provide shade for those of us destined to pull the nuts from the roots of the plant.
It was a hot, dirty job but I was rewarded with a pot full of boiled peanuts before sundown on harvest day, usually brining a few relatives over in the late evening to enjoy some of the cooked nuts with us. One thing I also remember about those days is there was usually a freezer of ice cream being churned to go along with those peanuts. I didn’t know it at the time, but those were some of the best memories of my childhood – sweat, dirt and all.
I have always loved peanuts and there is usually some kind of peanut in my house at any given time. Right now, there are three quarts of boiled peanuts in my freezer just waiting for a football Saturday (I still have my fingers crossed). There is also a jar of dry-roasted peanuts sitting in my pantry that will be consumed just a handful at a time. And, just like I said earlier, I will consume peanuts in just about any form – roasted in or out of the shell, fried, parched, boiled, dry-roasted, honey roasted, dipped in chocolate, thrown in an ice cream dish with vanilla ice cream and a little chocolate sauce, peanut brittle……you get the point. I love peanuts.
Just this week, I got my hands on a big bounty of peanuts; that’s why there are three quarts in my freezer. It got me to thinking about the different kinds of peanuts that are available right now. Of course, green peanuts are just becoming available since farmers have started digging in the last couple of weeks. But, for those of us who have been around these gems for most of our lives, we know that green peanuts are perishable and have to be handled carefully. Green peanuts need to be refrigerated as soon as possible after digging and should be cooked in some way within a week or 10 days before they start to go bad. That sour smell from a rotting peanut is very unpleasant and I avoid it as much as possible by making sure to cook and eat as quickly as I can. And, just so you’ll know, until some companies decided to boil and can peanuts for sale across the country (you know you’ve seen them, and maybe even bought some) boiled peanuts were an unknown pleasure to those outside the south. The three highest-producing states for peanuts are (in order) Georgia, Florida and Alabama explains why our region loves the boiled peanut when most northern and western people have never experienced the pleasures of a peanut boil.
This also got me to thinking about the difference between green peanuts and raw peanuts. And although you’d think they were pretty much the same, there is a distinct difference. Green peanuts have somewhere between 35 and 50 percent moisture in them which makes them so susceptible to spoiling quickly. Raw peanuts have had some of their moisture content removed to allow for longer storage without refrigeration. By drying the peanut to the point where it only has about 10 percent moisture you can actually save raw peanuts in air-tight containers for a much longer amount of time. Some raw peanuts have been processed to allow for extended shelf-life which means you can probably find raw peanuts at the local grocery store if you really look.
Our area is in the very early stages of peanut harvest and the season looks like a good one. I hope that you get a chance to boil some peanuts in your backyard pot, on your stove or even in the crock pot. If you get your hands on some raw peanuts, stir up a mess of peanut brittle and give me a call. Anyway you fix them, I’ll be up for a peanut party.
CROCK POT PEANUTS
Cook’s note: These take a long time, but little effort.
2 pounds green peanuts
2 quarts water
1/3 cup kosher salt
Place peanuts in a colander and rinse well under cold water. Place the peanuts in the slow cooker and cover with the water. Add salt and stir well. Cover and cook on high for five to six hours or until tender. Check during the cooking time and add more water to assure the peanuts are submerged during the entire cooking process.
Note: If you like your peanuts spicy, stir in one or two sliced jalapeno peppers and 1 tbs. cajun seasoning.
Washtub Boiled Peanuts
10 lbs. green peanuts, washed
1 cup ice cream salt
Water to cover
Pour peanuts and salt into large pot (you’ll need a really big pot). Add enough water to cover the peanuts and leave space for boiling (make sure there is at least two or three inches of pot left after covering peanuts to allow for expanding nuts and the boiling process). Stir to distribute the salt and peanuts in the water. Turn on the flame to high and bring pot to a boil. Turn heat down to medium-high and continue cooking until desired tenderness is achieved (1 to 2 hours typically). Check often for tenderness after the first hour of boiling. Once the desired tenderness is reached, extinguish the flame and allow peanuts to cool in the pot (don’t drain them). The peanuts will absorb the salt in the water as they cool. Check as they cool to check for desired saltiness. When the peanuts taste right, drain them from the water and allow to cool completely. Boiled peanuts will last for about a week in the refrigerator. For longer preservation, put peanuts in an air-tight container or zip-top bags in desired amounts and freeze. Frozen nuts will keep for up to one year if properly stored.
Cook’s note: This recipe calls for raw peanuts. Dry peanuts may be used.
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
2/3 cup water
1 1/2 cups raw peanuts
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
Cover a cookie sheet with parchment paper and spray the parchment paper with cooking spray. In a 3 quart saucepan, combine the sugar, corn syrup and water. Cook this mixture over medium heat to the soft ball stage (about 238 degrees) on a candy thermometer, stirring it only until the sugar dissolved. Add the peanuts, salt and butter. Cook the mixture to the hard crack stage (about 290 degrees) on a candy thermometer. Remove the mixture from the heat and add the vanilla and baking soda. Stir the mixture thoroughly. Pour the mixture onto the prepared cookie sheet. Spread it to about 1/4” thick. Let the candy cool completely before breaking the candy into pieces. Makes about 1 to 1 1/2 pounds of peanut brittle.
Cook’s note: I’ve never tried these, but apparently you can eat even the shells after frying. You let me know!
Oil for frying
1-2 lbs. green or raw peanuts, in shell
2 tbls Spice Blend (if desired)
1/4 cup chili powder
2 tbls salt
1 1/2 tbls onion powder
1 tbls ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp paprika
1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 1/2 tsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp dry mustard
In a heavy pot, or deep fryer, heat oil to 375 degrees. Submerge peanuts in oil and fry until crispy (about 10 minutes, but check at 5 minutes. Cooking time will vary based on the oil used and the moisture content of the nuts. ). Drain well and toss with 2 tablespoons of spice blend, or dust with salt if you don’t want to use the spice blend. Serve warm. Peanuts will keep several weeks to a month stored in air tight mason jars or other food storage container.
Southern Candied Peanuts
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
2 cups raw peanuts
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. In a medium saucepan combine sugar and water. Over medium heat, stir mixture until sugar dissolves. Add peanuts to the mixture and continue to cover over medium heat until peanuts are coated and no sugar syrup remains. Stir constantly to avoid burning and to coat peanuts well. This may take as much as 30 minutes. Pour peanuts onto an ungreased cookie sheet and spread out into a single layer as much as possible. Bake for 30 minutes stirring the peanuts every 10 minutes or so. Allow the peanuts to cool on the cookie sheet. Store in a sealed container.