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 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 project as a fundraiser probably couldn’t have imagined how popular it would become.
The group sold 36 tons of peanuts Labor Day weekend. All but a few hundred pounds of them were boiled in salty water and served up hot in paper bags. A few customers, who prefer their peanuts parched, also left satisfied.
Held along busy U.S. Highway 331 at the Luverne Industrial Park, hundreds of volunteers pitched in to help with what has become a community project.
Peanuts were cooked in five 10-foot long metal tanks heated by propane burners. Each had 720 pounds of peanuts, 250 gallons of water and a generous serving of salt. The group used 2 tons of salt over the weekend.
A wench system lowered and lifted cages filled with peanuts into the hot water. Four hours later, peanuts were spread onto a drying table in front of giant fans to cool 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 began the Wednesday before, and peanuts sold out by Sunday afternoon.
“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 guys who drove here 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.