Don’t eat the green peanuts

Published 10:18 am Tuesday, October 25, 2016

There it was…the tell-tale dust cloud and accompanying sweet smell of the soil that sent my mind wandering back to a much simpler time of life.

The sun was slowly dipping into the western horizon on Friday of last week as I made my way to Winton to cover an event hosted by new Hertford County Sheriff Dexter Hayes.

As I traveled along Willoughby Road, between Ahoskie and Brantley’s Grove, I stumbled across what is an annual sighting here in northeastern North Carolina. A huge plume of dust appeared frozen in the air as, in a nearby field, a tractor slowly inched forward with a peanut picker in tow.

Ah, the sweet smell of harvested peanuts…there’s perhaps no other odor quite like it.

My mind drifted back to childhood. Born and raised on a Northampton County farm, harvesting peanuts in early to mid October meant that cold weather was right around the corner.

Harvesting that particular crop also signaled another tradition – the North Carolina State Fair. One could almost set their watch on the peanut harvest coinciding with the State Fair, which began this year on Oct. 13.

I remember being in the peanut field as a boy. My job during the hot summer months was to walk the field and pull weeds. Then, during harvest time, me and Bunky Johnson (my cousin, my neighbor, and my best friend growing up) would find a way just to be kids. Our elders would try to find us something to do, mostly collect and stack the peanut poles. Back then, peanuts were dug and then stacked on poles to dry. The stacks were then taken to a peanut harvester sitting stationary in the field. Nowadays, the harvester is pulled behind a tractor as it makes its way up and down those long rows of freshly dug peanuts.

Sitting a stone’s throw away from my home place was a peanut buying station. Me and Bunky would “hang around” that facility, sometimes lending a helping hand to empty the peanut trailers. The most fun was sneaking into the big warehouse that contained huge bins of peanuts waiting to be bagged. We would run up and down the pile of peanuts. To us, it appeared to be a “goober mountain.”

But the best part was eating all the peanuts our stomachs could handle. Eating the green ones (not quite completely dried) were delicious, but they would cause a bad belly ache.

Since the buying station was so close to my house, it was a nightly occurrence to fall asleep to the sound of the fans (dryers) blowing warm air into the peanut trailers.

How could I hear that, you may ask? Well, back then, we did not have the luxury of an air-conditioned home. Instead, my mom and dad’s home had a big fan positioned in a wall on an enclosed back porch. At night, dad would ease up all the windows an inch or two and cut on the fan, thus creating a draft of cool air. The sound of the peanut dyers playing their sweet music coupled with the cool, crisp night air was better than any sleep aid you can purchase today.

What…you grew-up with no air conditioner in your home? Yep, that’s right. We also managed to live without computers, e-mail, cell phones, DVD’s and video games. Also, we enjoyed the three channels we were fortunate to receive on our black-and-white TV.

The fall harvest also meant one other thing…parched peanuts. My dad, God rest his soul, wasn’t a cook, but the man really enjoyed parching peanuts. I can still envision him shelling peanuts and placing those tasty, plump goobers onto a long baking pan, sticking that into the oven (yes, we did have an electric oven; I’m not old enough to remember cooking over an open fire) and occasionally stirring his masterpiece until they were golden brown. There’s nothing better than hot, parched peanuts, straight from the oven.

And we didn’t buy the peanuts from a store. We didn’t have to….we were surrounded by peanut fields.

Just as I was on Friday en route to Winton where the smell of peanuts being harvested brought back a wealth of memories.

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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