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Dave Mathison works for peanuts.
The 29-year-old owner of Chris and Dave's Boiled Peanuts has spent three years introducing Utahns to this salty snack, which he calls "the edamame of the South."
Those who love roasted and salted peanuts might wonder why anyone would want to boil raw peanuts in their shells.
That's because you've never tried one, said Mathison, whose father lived in Florida for a time and made "bawled peanuts" when his children were young.
Mathison, who works for his family's Salt Lake City drain cleaning business, had all but forgotten the snack until 2009, when he befriended a Southern transplant and boiled peanuts came up in a conversation.
"That clicked in my mind as something that would be a great thing to sell at the farmers market," said Mathison, who had always hoped to have a booth at the Saturday market at Pioneer Park in Salt Lake City. "I just loved being at the farmers market and wanted to be part of that."
On a whim, the pair made a batch of boiled peanuts, drew up a makeshift sign and sold them to those attending the Desert Rocks Music Festival in Moab, Mathison said.
Not long after, Chris moved to Florida but his name remains on the business moniker.
"I kept the name since we were already established and I just like the way it sounded," Mathison said. "When you hear Ben and Jerry's you don't think of either guy, you think of ice cream."
Peanut history • The Utah business has grown over the past three years, simply by word of mouth, said Mathison. Each week he goes through about 75 pounds of peanuts, which weigh 250 pounds after the four- to five-hour cooking process. Shipped from North Carolina, the jumbo peanuts are boiled in large metal vats along with salt and spices to soften the insides into something that resembles a bean.
At the farmers markets, cups of peanuts sell for $4 and $6. There also are half-gallon buckets of peanuts in the brine available at various stores around the Salt Lake Valley for $10-$13. (See box.) The buckets will keep for about two months in the fridge.
Initially, the boiled peanuts came in two flavors: original salted the top seller and Cajun. This year, he expanded the offerings to include chili limón and curry.
While no one is sure when the practice of boiling raw or fresh peanuts began, it dates to at least the Civil War, according to the historians at the What's Cooking America website. When other foods were scarce, the Confederate troops boiled high-protein peanuts in a salty brine to survive. They called these emergency rations "goober peas," which ultimately was the inspiration for a popular Southern folk song.
Since then, the unique but highly addictive snack has been sold at roadside stands in North and South Carolina and into Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and parts of Florida, the website said. They also are a popular treat in Hawaii and parts of Asia, Mathison said.
A love of boiled peanuts seems to have spread across the U.S. Last week, The Huffington Post published a story titled "Boiled Peanuts: The Southern Snack We Adore."
Fresh boiled peanuts and other Southern specialties also are being shipped across the U.S. by well-known cookbook authors Matt and Ted Lee through The Lee Bros. Boiled Peanuts catalog.
Utah learns • Sacco's Produce in Roy sells about three dozen tubs of Chris and Dave's Boiled Peanuts each week, said owner Dominic Sacco.
"We have a lot of customers from Florida and the Carolinas who know what they are, and a lot of retired military from the South who live nearby," he said.
The store puts an A-frame sign out front that advertises the boiled peanuts, said Sacco, and sometimes employees warm the peanuts in a slow cooker for customers to sample.
"A lot of them are really impressed, and some would rather have them roasted," said Sacco, who sells raw peanuts for those who want to boil their own. He also sells other Southern ingredients, including sorghum and Georgia pecans.
Born and raised in Utah, Zack Fandl found the boiled peanuts addictive as well.
"I had never heard of them until I saw Dave's booth at the market and he offered me a sample," said the Salt Lake City event coordinator. "Now I routinely buy them. The Cajun peanuts are my favorite by far."
Fandl said the protein-rich peanuts are a "healthier alternative" to potato chips or other snacks beloved by couch potatoes. "I usually eat them while I'm watching football."
While there are many ways to eat boiled peanuts, Mathison said it's best to put the whole peanut in your mouth, gently crack it open with your teeth and then suck all the salty juice out. After that, it's easy to extract the softened nut and spit out the shell.
It usually takes uninitiated customers three tries to really understand the genius of the boiled peanut, said Mathison. "The first time you sample, it's kind of weird and you don't know what to think. The second time you think it's kind of good. And by the third sample you're hooked."
Finding goober peas
Chris and Dave's Boiled Peanuts are available at local farmers markets and throughout the year at various stores.
Downtown Farmers Market at Pioneer Park • 300 S. 300 West, Salt Lake City. 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. through Oct. 19.
Wheeler Farm Sunday Market • 6351 S. 900 East, Murray. 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. through Oct. 27.
Blue Star Juice and Coffee Café • 2795 S. 2300 East, Salt Lake City; 801-466-4280
Community Food Co-op of Utah • 1726 S. 700 West, Salt Lake City; 801-746-7878
Local Flavors Market & Cafe (formerly Cy's) • 8767 S. 700 East, Sandy; 801-915-5572
Pirate O's Gourmet Market • 11901 S. 700 East, Draper; 801-572-0956
Peterson's Fresh Market • 1777 W. 12600 South, Riverton; 801-254-0761
Sacco's Produce • 6050 S. 1900 West, Roy; 801-825-1061
Village Baker • 1658 W. 9000 South, West Jordan; 801-565-0055
Wasatch Front Farmers Market Store • 5823 S. State St., Murray; 801-792-1419
Western Nut Company • 434 S. 300 West, Salt Lake City; 801-363-8869
2 pounds dried raw peanuts
½ to 2/3 cup salt
Soak peanuts in water to cover in a large stock pot at least 8 hours or up to 24 hours. (You may need to weigh down peanuts with a large plate or lid to ensure that they are fully submerged.) Drain and rinse.
Place peanuts and desired amount of salt in stock pot with 4 ½ quarts water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook 6 hours or until peanuts are tender, adding water as needed to keep peanuts covered; stir occasionally.
Remove from heat; let stand 1 hour. Serve warm.
Cajun Boiled Peanuts: Proceed with Step 1, adding ½ cup Cajun seasoning to water. Proceed with Step 2, using ½ cup salt and 5 to 7 tablespoons liquid Cajun crab boil seasoning before bringing to a boil. Proceed with recipe as directed.
To store, place peanuts in a large tub and cover with brine. Store in the refrigerator. Reaheat in a saucepan or slow cooker.
Source: Southern Living