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Going Nuts: Northerner tries boiled peanuts for the first time

Published: Jul. 13, 2021 at 1:00 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - If you’re from South Carolina, then you know that some of the best boiled peanuts are found on the side of the road.

But, if you’re from out of town, then seeing a roadside stand with a huge “BOILED PEANUTS” sign, might look peculiar.

And if you stumble upon the Boiled Peanut Vending Machine at Just Peanuts & Produce in Elgin, well, then you know you’re really not in Kansas anymore.

“I was just driving down the road, going to get a trailer hitch put on the van and the Lord spoke to me and said you need a boiled peanut vending machine. And of course, my favorite response was, do what?!,” Gary Draffin, Owner of Just Peanuts and Produce, describes when the idea for a Boiled Peanut Vending Machine popped into his head. “I called my wife and I said go on the internet and see if you can find a boiled peanut vending machine,” Draffin chuckles.

A laugh looking back, but Draffin made that crazy idea a reality, “So, I called them and they custom-built it for me and we’ve got it.” The refrigerated vending machine sits adjacent from Gary’s roadside stand and its meant for those times when you just really need some boiled peanuts, no matter the hour.

For those still wanting piping-hot peanuts from the pot, Gary does that too and he does it well. “People come all the time and tell me yours are the best and I don’t understand how you can mess them up. So, who knows, there must be some way to mess them up,” Gary explains, “But I’m consistent. I do the same recipe and the same amount of water, the same amount of peanuts, pretty much over and over again.”

From new crop to jumbo, to Cajun, and sometimes Hawaiian, Gary has perfected his recipes over the years.

He started in the mountains on a one-pot burner, always selling out from his stand at the local marina. Well, fast-forward a few years and one pot has turned to four and Gary is still selling out, here, in the Midlands. “We moved down here because my wife wanted to be by the grandkids and so we bought the house for the driveway so we could have the drive-thru and been here since 2016 selling boiled peanuts,” says Gary.

Scouting a house for a boiled peanut drive-thru – now that’s commitment!

And Gary has been committed to his craft for several years – evolving to demand over time. He has taken the age-old practice of selling boiled peanuts and implemented some new-age strategies. “There’s been some trial and error like when to put the salt in and how long to let them boil and how to stay awake throughout the whole process,” Gary goes on, “That’s why I have thermometers with Bluetooth alarms so that I can get some sleep in between alarms.”

Smart thermometers, a drive-thru, a vending machine – oh, and did I mention he takes card?!

While some of his operations have changed over time, Gary says at the end of the day, it’s just peanuts, “The way the name came about for Just Peanuts, was that people would come up and they don’t have quite enough money and I go ahead and give it to them and they would go ‘Oh man, why—’ and I would say, ‘It’s okay they’re just peanuts!’”

Well, after trying some of the best in town, it was only fair to try some of the worst.

“Cromers started in 1935 at a farmers market, much like our Soda City,” explains Cromers’ Autumne Smith, “And Julian Cromer would have his boiled peanuts that he would bring down to the farmers market to try and sell. It’s actually an interesting story—he [Julian] had a bit of a competition and the competitor was not real thrilled that he was selling a lot of his peanuts. So, he kind of threw a bit of bad tactics out there and said ‘You know what? You don’t want to buy peanuts from them, they’re the worst peanuts in town!’” Autumne continues, “And so Julian having the bit of sense of humor that he does, he took a piece of paper and he ripped it off and he took a pen and he wrote “Guaranteed Worst in Town!’”

The Guaranteed Worst has stuck around, 86 years later and Cromers is still selling the same peanuts, made the same way and with the same decades-old recipe.

“I think it’s nothing extraordinary, it’s just a nice basic flavor that we stick with,” Cromers President Steven Smith explains what makes Cromers peanuts so special, “It’s the same way we did with Mr. Wade and before him.”

Mr. Wade was the man behind the Guaranteed Worst for almost five decades – carrying on a legacy and leaving quite the legacy himself.

“I think it goes back to Mr. Wade, being here for 48 years,” Smith continues, “Taste is a function that people never forget, so when you’re five years old, you remember what that peanut tasted like at a Carolina game and now you taste it at 42, and it’s the longevity of the recipe – you don’t want to change that. And Cromers having that legacy, we don’t change that.”

Carrying on the recipe now is Chris Samuels. Samuels helps Cromers churn out over 1,000 pounds of peanuts each week. Even though Cromers produces a substantial amount of peanuts every week, Smith says they don’t stick around long, “Look at the shelf right there, there’s not a single bag of boiled peanuts on the shelf.” A true testament to Cromers peanuts.

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