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How the stand selling ‘Boiled Penuts’ got its start in South
The red man came to the mountains of Southern Appalachia, historians say, because game was abundant there.
The white man came because the region had fertile soil, beautiful scenery, plenty of water and good boiled peanuts.
I made up the boiled peanuts part, but I bet it’s true. Somebody in the South discovered the art of boiling peanuts just a century or so after Hernando de Soto discovered water in the Mississippi River.
“Hmmmm,” said the first eater of peanuts, “these legumes of the Arachis hypogaea vine are not bad. I bet they’d be good if I boiled them in salty water.”
So he did — and they were good.
But before he could sell them to the tourist — the white man who came down from the North to get away from the cold, to look for a time-share and to buy antiques — he had to create an attention-getter. He scribbled “Boiled Penuts” on a piece of parchment, attached the sign to a stick and stuck it in the ground alongside the trail. He misspelled “peanuts” on purpose because he knew Yankees were attracted to things of Southern quaintness.
He built a big fire around a black pot filled with spring water, dumped in the legumes brought by mule fresh from South Georgia, arranged a few pumpkins and jars of honey in an enticing display, sat down in a cane-bottom chair, leaned against a tree and waited.
A tourist from the North saw the smoke and the big, black pot and said, “Whoa,” a term he’d heard Southerners use to stop their mules.
“What have you got in the pot, Mister?” the Yankee said.
“Boiled Penuts,” the Southerner answered.
“Never heard of ’em,” but I’ll try a few,” the tourist said. So the Southerner dipped a pork’n’beans can filled with holes into the boiling water and brought up 50 cents’ worth of hot legumes, which he put into a paper sack, recently invented for the very purpose of holding hot legumes.
“Not bad,” the visitor said, popping a second Boiled Penut into his mouth, “but they’re a little tough, aren’t they?”
“Well, Mister,” the Southerner said, “you’re s’posed to take ’em out of the hulls first.”
The Yankee climbed back on his mule, whose rear end was now loaded with four pumpkins and three jars of honey, and said, “Giddyup,” a term he’d heard Southerners use to start their mules.
“I’ll tell my friends about your Boiled Penuts,” he said as he rode out of sight. And he did. Thus began the roadside stand specializing in Boiled Penuts.
Centuries later, I stopped at a stand in the mountains to buy three dollars’ worth of hot legumes. A fire was burning about 20 yards from the stand, but the peanuts actually were being boiled in two steel drums inside a shed, and this fire was fed by propane gas.
“Why do you have the fire out there?” I asked naively.
“It’s just an attention-getter,” the proprietor said.
What did I tell you?
Phil Hudgins’ column is published in many newspapers around the Southeast.