PANAMA CITY — Although I have passed numerous stands on the side of the road and seen the signs at local convenience stores, I never had a boiled peanut until this week.
“That’s bizarre. Are you not from here?” Sara White asked me Tuesday at the Farmish Market.
Since moving from Texas, I often have been curious, but apprehensive, about what I thought would be a slimy mess. Living so close to Dothan, Ala., the “peanut capital of the world,” for almost a decade now, I decided it was time to stop wondering and start tasting.
“Everybody from Texas thinks they’re awful,” Sara added as I waited for her to scoop out a batch of boiled peanuts from the large pot heating over the open flame.
Farmish Market sells 32-ounce cups of hot, boiled peanuts, regular or spicy, made the old-fashioned way. The smell, which I likened to boiled vegetables, was not what I expected.
“We live off boiled peanuts down here,” Sara said. “These are truly straight–up Southern made.”
She showed me how to squeeze the peanut shell along the seam, then break it apart — “you can use your fingers or your teeth,” she said before she sucked out the salty juice and ate the red skin peanuts. To my surprise, the boiled peanuts inside were in their recognizable form, not globs.
“They can get mushy if you cook them too long,” she said. “These don’t tend to, the red-skin Valencia, like the difference between cooking al dente noodles or making them mushy. It’s out of season for green, March to November.”
Sara, who is married to one of the owners, David White, said she doesn’t do the cooking, just “taste tests.”
As I broke open the peanut shell, the juice came squirting out onto the concrete floor before I picked out a couple of the peanuts to eat. With one taste, I was taken back to younger days visiting my dad’s family on their Mississippi farm, shelling peas and eating fresh, cooked vegetables.
“It must be in your blood,” said Sara, surprised I actually liked them.
They reminded me of a Southern version of salty, edamame beans.
“We soak them overnight in cold, salty water and boil them for about eight hours,” said Diana, David’s twin sister, who also owns the Farmish Market, along with their younger brother, Adam.
A large pot in the 40-degree walk-in cooler on the side of the market building keeps enough ready to fill up the heated pots a few times. Sara pulled out some boiled spicy peanuts from the smaller pot.
“Some want it mixed up, don’t want it to be spicy, but don’t want it bland,” she said.
The spicy peanuts get their heat from being boiled with jalapenos, red pepper flakes, which “reconstitute themselves,” and Ed’s Red Hot Sauce.
“I like ’em, it’s a matter of taste,” said Sara, who had sold about five cups of boiled peanuts by noon.
The market also sells the hot sauce, made in Port St. Joe, along with other local produce and food products, as well as Amish goods.
I liked the slightly spicy, tangy peanuts just as well as the regular, so I went with a mixed-up cup, representative of my Texas and Mississippi roots. The peanuts can be reheated in boiling water on the stove or in the microwave, added Sara, who has some customers come in and get large quantities. When I couldn’t eat anymore, I put the leftover peanuts in my refrigerator and found they still tasted good cold.
In March, when the Farmish Market celebrates its one-year anniversary, I will be back to check out the green peanuts from Cottondale.
“The greens cook faster,” Sara said. “The jumbo greens are fatter and shorter. Everybody seems to like them more. I prefer the Valencia, but just about everybody else in the peanut eating world likes greens.”
Because harvests depend on the weather, an exact date of when they will be in is hard to come by.
“In the produce business, everything is ‘ish,’ ” she said.
GET YOUR OWN BATCH
The Farmish Market, 3812 W. U.S. 98, serves Southern-style hot boiled peanuts, regular and spicy. Cost: $4/32-ounce cup. The market is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. From March to November, the market also is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Details: (850) 215-8146,FarmishMarket.com, Facebook.com/FarmishMarket or FarmishMarket@gmail.com.