A couple of weeks ago, Gerrit and I bought a new painting for above our mantle. We’ve been searching for the right piece of art to hang up there ever since we moved in, and several weeks ago when we were down in Auburn we pulled into a parking space downtown, right in front of one of my favorite stores, and right there, leaning against the front wall, was our painting.
It’s a blurry painting of fields and trees with old white plaster houses with red roofs and a beautiful blue sky that blends with our wall just perfectly. And I can’t quite decide if it is a Tuscan scene, of it is from rural Alabama. When I had my whole family standing in front of the painting, trying to decide whether I should buy it or not, I said, “Don’t y’all think it’s just a little too…Italian?” And my brother, usually not one for strong opinions, goes, “What? That’s not Italian. That’s Alabama.” It hadn’t really even occurred to me then, but now that it has I like to think that my painting is an Alabama farm, which would complete our family room/kitchen collection of Alabama artwork. I seem to be a bit lured to things like these since we moved back from Houston. Perhaps I am grasping at it and feeling the need to prove it. I’m not sure. But I am Alabamian through and through.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the little microcosm of a city I live in, allow me to take a few minutes to explain, though. Huntsville is a bit different than your typical Alabama city. Yes, it is Southern. And yes, you do get your standard ignorant Southerners like you would in almost any Southern state or city. But Huntsville also has a bit of a different population. It’s full of army people and government workers and NASA rocket scientists and engineers. Most people that live here didn’t grow up here. And I’m glad that Huntsville is a picture of the South that these kinds of people get to experience. It is beautiful and kind and generally well educated. And I’m glad that this is the kind of Alabama that I have grown up in as well.
But there is another part of Alabama, too. The stereotyped Alabama. And it gets a pretty bad rap for being trashy and uneducated and mostly undesirable. But what people miss is that fact that it is the rural parts of Alabama that are so consistently beautiful. It is the rural parts of Alabama that have rolling hills and idyllic farms. It is in the rural parts of Alabama where you can see the stars so clearly and where you can find the best barbecue. It is in the rural part of Alabama where my family’s roots lie. And it is in these kinds of places where you can watch horses running and stop at farmers markets and buy my favorite of all roadside foods, boiled peanuts.
Whenever we were going anywhere that required us to drive down to south Alabama, mostly on our way to visit family, I always begged to stop for boiled peanuts. And often my dad would give in. I think it is one of the foods we bonded over our love for, because I don’t think my mom and my brother were ever quite as enthusiastic about those styrofoam cups of warm peanuts as my dad and I were. So we would stop at a little wooden stand on the side of the road, often with a sign scratched out in red paint, and buy our cup of peanuts. I would eat them carefully in the backseat of the car, followed by a set up wet wipes for my hands and big swigs of water to wash down the saltiness.
And let me just say, for those of you that are unfamiliar with this Alabama delicacy, boiled peanuts are a bit of an acquired taste. I mean, I think I was born with the taste, my family being what it is and all. But for the rest of you, they might not be what you expect. Some people say they are a bit like salty peas. But I’m not so sure I agree with this because my hatred for peas knows no end, but my love for boiled peanuts is equally strong. Yes, they are a bit mushy (although can be cooked to preference if you want them to have a bit more of a bite). And they are quite a bit salty and briny. They don’t quite taste like peanuts, but instead are something altogether different. But I always think they are delicious. You bite into that shell, just along the crack to split it open, and salty brine bursts into your mouth, and then you scoop out those little peanut with your teeth and have hit southern gold.
No, you may not like them. But I wanted to share because these are a part of my roots, and food that I love while other people may look suspiciously on, and they are exactly what I want to eat on any given Alabama summer day.
from the Hot and Hot Fishclub Cookbook
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 4 hours
Wait Time: 1 hour
Makes about 2 cups of peanuts
2 lbs. raw unshelled green peanuts
3/4 cup kosher salt
16 cups (6 quarts) water
1. Rinse the peanuts and sort through them, removing any broken ones. Combine peanuts, salt, and water in a large stock pot.
2. Bring to a full boil over medium-high heat. Once the water is boiling, lower the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 3 1/2 to 4 hours. Taste the peanuts as you go to judge cooking time (they should be soft with just a bit of a bite). Add water if it begins to get low.
3. Remove from heat and allow to cool in the brine for at least 1 hour. To store, refrigerate in about half of the brine for up to 1 week.