Locals and Labor Day travelers gobble-up 21 tons of a uniquely southern treat
For 40 years, Labor Day weekend in Crenshaw County has meant one thing: boiled peanuts. And this year, the World’s Largest Peanut Boil sponsored by the Crenshaw County Shrine Club sold more boiled peanuts to locals and beach-bound travelers alike while the Crenshaw County Chamber of Commerce invited everyone to stay a while on Saturday for the first ever Peanut Boil Festival.
"This year we sold 21 tons of peanuts, and we sold out Sunday morning," Shrine Club President Shelton Morrell said.
A veteran peanut boiler, Morrell first starting working the event as a volunteer when he was in junior high school.
"We’ve always sold as many peanuts as we could cook, and for years we sold 10 to 12 tons every Labor Day weekend. We’ve added more boilers over time, which allows us to cook more peanuts," Morrell explained.
"Because we had new cookers built, we were able to go from cooking about 100 pounds of peanuts at any given time, to cooking 2,600 to 3,000 pounds at a time," he said.
And with each boiler innovation, the World’s Largest Peanut Boil makes another surge in peanuts cooked and sold.
"We’ve ordered 25 tons of peanuts for next year, so hopefully we can add a couple of more cookers between now and then," said Morrell.
The Shriners have a grower in Florida who plants the peanuts early specifically for their annual event.
"Labor Day weekend is about a month before most peanuts are ready for harvest in our area, and it takes a lot more than an acre or two to grow twenty-plus tons of peanuts," Morrell explained.
"It takes a month or so of working nights and weekends to get the facility and supplies ready every year, and since we had these new cookers, we cooked our first test batch the Tuesday before the big event," he added.
And with the addition of the first Peanut Boil Festival on Saturday, September 4, there was much more to do than pick up a bag or two of peanuts.
"Sherri Richburg, Chamber Executive Secretary, came up with the idea a few years ago, and we’ve talked about doing it ever since then. This year just finally seemed like the right time," Chamber President Martha Dickey said.
So with 52 vendor booths, a car show, various children’s activities, a pageant and a Fun Run (5-K for adults and 1-K for children), the first-ever Peanut Boil Festival exceeded expectations.
"We had no idea attendance would be so great, but we know for next year we’re going to have to plan more for the traffic," said Dickey, who estimated the crowd for the festival to be 2,000 people.
"Really our only goal for this year was to have the festival, but I think the event was a huge success. The weather was perfect, there were more than 80 people in the Fun Run, we had 31 entries in the car show and there were a lot of free activities for children. It really couldn’t have gone much better for a first-time event," Dickey said.
And she said the key to both the festival and the annual peanut boil is the amazing amount of volunteer support coming from such a small community.
"We’d start the boilers about 5 a.m. each day and cook peanuts until about 1 a.m. the next morning. After a few hours sleep, we’d be back at it again. And a lot of people are using their vacation time every year to work night and day boiling and bagging peanuts," Morrell said.
But several members of the Shrine Club and other volunteers said the same thing keeps people coming back year after year – the worthy cause.
Glenn Mothershed of the Honoraville community said he’s been boiling peanuts for 40 years because of the good it does.
"Thirty years or so ago, a young girl from this area was badly burned and the whole community watched as she progressed with the help of Shriners Hospital. Today, she’s married with children of her own. When you see something like that, you know all the good it does to get involved in things to help people," Mothershed explained.
Morrell echoed those sentiments.
"I have four daughters myself, and I show people their picture and ask if they know what Shriners Hospitals have done for these four beautiful girls. And I tell them, ‘Nothing, but I want those hospitals to be there if my girls ever need them.’ That’s why the Shrine Club and Peanut Boil are important to me," Morrell said.
But the fellowship and fun of the World’s Largest Peanut Boil likewise play an important role in keeping people committed year after year.
"Events like this bring people cohesiveness, and the peanut boil has become a sort of rallying point for this community. People will stand around and catch-up who haven’t seen each other since the last peanut boil, and I think it’s important for people to have things creating a local mindset," Morrell said.
And Martha Dickey agreed.
"Anytime you have that many people come together to volunteer, it’s a good thing for the community. Seeing the crowd that day was like seeing a brighter day for Crenshaw County," Dickey said.
Dickey also said money raised by the chamber’s festival will be shared with several local organizations, with a percentage of their funds also going to the Shrine Club of Crenshaw County.
Both Dickey and Morrell said keeping the fun affordable is part of what made the event successful.
"Most of the children’s activities – the large inflatable houses, face painting and sand art – were free, and that was important for us. We wanted parents and grandparents to bring their kids out for some fun that didn’t cost a fortune," Dickey explained.
"Times are hard for a lot of people. Everybody may not have $2,000 for a week at the beach, but most people are still willing to pay six dollars for a bag of peanuts when it’s for a good cause. I could fill a book with all the people I’d like to thank for the work they put in, but we couldn’t continue to do this without the patrons who return year after year. From the bottom of our heart as a club, we are so grateful for every bag of peanuts that was bought," Morrell said.
Kellie Henderson is a freelance writer from Troy.