The stepmother walks into the sunroom with the best poker face I’ve ever seen: Here, I brought you something. She plops a bag about the size and warmth of a newborn baby in my arms.
Mind you, my second morning home visiting the folks had been spent sucking the blood off my hands as I painstakingly inspected yet another chestnut on the ground underneath my father’s tree. The holidays are coming and I know if I surprise the partner with the fresh golden morsels for our Christmas tofurkey, I’ll be in good graces until, well okay, the end of the year. For those of you who have never been lucky enough to harvest chestnuts, it basically involves figuring out ways to bust them out of their seriously prickly pods without looking like a burn victim when it’s over.
What’s in the aforementioned bag is a whole other story.
And for those of you non-southerners who have never had a boiled peanut, well, woe be unto you. Yes, I know they sound – and look – repulsive. And I’m not one of those southerners who walks around going, “They’re the best thing ever, what do you mean, ‘Ew?’” I get it. It makes no sense to me either. But if you grew up anywhere near the Gulf Coast where folks sell them out of trucks at red lights or giant rusty kettles at farmers markets, then you haven’t lived.
And when someone pulls out a bag of the aromatic rascals in a crowd, everything stops. Just like it did in the sunroom.
“You did NOT buy me a giant bag of boiled peanuts,” I hollered. I gave her a big grateful hug as I knew I didn’t deserve it since I’d made her eat my vegan cooking all week.
The stepmom shrugged her shoulders and held out her now-empty hands – ‘no big whoop.’
Oh, but this was a giant whoop. It had been years since I’d had one. If you even mention a boiled legume out here where I live, the Westerners look at you like you just asked them to eat possum puke. “No-no-no-no-noooo,” my friend Gale said, waving her hands around her ears as she walked away. “I can’t even HEAR about it!”
That’s because she’s never had one. Because you can’t find them out here. You can’t even find the green ones to take home if you’d decided you were gonna do something crazy (and I would) and spend all weekend cooking them while you cleaned house, worked out and wrote a book.
But that’s the great thing about the south. You don’t have to. Because there’s always somebody to do it for you. All you have to do is ask anyone and they’ll give you three references off the top of their head: “Janie over at the curb market has the best, and Dooley Franks usually has his tailgate open next to the Highway 98 off-ramp on weekends…Food Tiger has ‘em, but you have to get there early.”
On our knees, we all gathered around the tiny sunroom table and dove into the bag – dads, sisters, nieces and nephews, all silently deciding this was going to be dinner. I’ve no recollection of when we finally stopped. Everyone was talking and eating at the same time, but mostly eating. Nobody remembers what you talk about during a Boiled Peanut Event anyway. I could have said I was six months along and thought it was a girl as I was carrying it low, and no one would have batted an eye.
Boiled peanuts are serious business. Ask anybody. But don’t ask anybody north of the Mason-Dixon line or west of the Mississippi. They’ll just act like babies and make throw-up noises.
Because they have no idea.