By Debra Davis
A sign leading into Luverne proudly proclaims it as “The Friendliest City in the South” and “Home of the World’s Largest Peanut Boil.”
Both assertions appear true based on the turnout for the 50th anniversary of the Crenshaw County Shrine Club’s Labor Day peanut boil.
“I can remember the first peanut boil they ever had,” said 60-year-old Luverne native Kyle Richburg. “My family had a tire store, and they boiled the first ones in a lot next to it. They started with a pickup truck full of peanuts right out of the field. They picked the peanuts off the vines and washed and boiled them in No. 3 washtubs. They were delicious then, and they still are.”
Shriners who started the event as a fundraiser probably couldn’t have imagined how popular the event would become.
The group will sell 34 tons of peanuts this weekend. All but a few hundred pounds of them are boiled in salty water and served up hot in paper bags. A few customers, who fashion their peanuts parched, also leave satisfied.
Held along busy U.S. Highway 331 at the Luverne Industrial Park, hundreds of volunteers pitch in to help what has become a community project.
Peanuts are cooked in five 10-foot long metal tanks heated by propane burners. Each hold 720 pounds of peanuts, 250 gallons of water and a generous serving of salt. The group will use 2 tons of salt over the weekend.
A wench system lowers and lifts cages filled with peanuts into the hot water. Four hours later, peanuts are spread onto a drying table in front of giant fans where they’re cooled slightly before being bagged and sold to waiting customers.
And customers don’t mind the wait.
“I’ve been coming for years,” said one customer who drove from nearby Troy and waited in line almost an hour. “But you have to come early because they might sell out.”
Although it’s a Labor Day event, the boiling starts the Wednesday before, and peanuts are usually sold out by Sunday.
“We cook almost constantly once we start on Wednesday,” said Crenshaw County Shrine Club President Andy Compton. “This is a community event. There’s no way we could it do it without the volunteers who donate their time. And we appreciate our loyal customers. We had two guys who drove here Wednesday from Tallahassee just to buy our boiled peanuts.”
The Shrine Club contracts with Jay, Florida, farmer Bruce Holland to grow the peanuts they sell. They’re picked and washed before being bagged in 40-pound sacks and stacked in a refrigerated truck that hauls them to Luverne.
“Originally the peanuts were bought from local farmers, but we don’t have many peanut farmers in our area anymore,” Compton said. “The runner-type peanuts we use are planted early so we can have the peanuts ready by Labor Day.”
Proceeds from the event help fund Shriner charities like Shriners Hospitals for Children, Compton said.