“I have never personally boiled a peanut in my life,” said Allen “Boo” Gray, winner of Fogle’s Piggly Wiggly’s recent boiled peanut contest.
Gray prepares his peanuts in a pressure cooker, per a family technique. He follows a simple, tried and true recipe -- salt, water and green peanuts -- but it yields lip-smacking, award-winning results.
“It was pretty awesome,” Gray said of winning the contest. “I didn’t realize it was going to be that big of a competition to start with. Thirty-eight people in it was pretty big.”
His connection to peanuts goes back to his childhood.
“My uncle was a farmer and, when we were kids, we used to go out to his house when it was peanut season. He would plant the peanuts,” Gray said.
The kids were put to work.
“We would have to go out there and dig them, pull them, put them on a hay wagon, go up under a shade tree and we would all pull peanuts.
“It was a big family thing that everybody got together and picked and pulled the peanuts. Then we washed them and cleaned them,” he said. “Everybody calls them boiled, but we always pressure cooked ours.”
“It was a traditional thing our family would do for years.”
His father, an auctioneer, had several large pressure cookers, he said. They could hold about half a bushel of peanuts at once.
“So we would pull a lot of peanuts and we would pressure cook a pot for everybody to eat and take home some,” he said.
“We did that on a yearly basis, and it just stuck with us. It stuck with me all these years, the way my father taught me.”
Gray’s winning peanuts came from Watson Weathers’ farm and were purchased at Piggly Wiggly.
“Watson Weathers has some great peanuts that he sells, the green peanuts. And I’ve been dealing with Watson for years. The type of peanuts he grows is just really, really good,” Gray said. “It’s all about timing.”
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He said he’s been cooking peanuts for more than 20 years.
“My wife says it’s been about 30,” he said.
He makes peanuts for the sheer enjoyment of it, he said.
“I’m not in the business to sell peanuts. I just do it for fun.”
Gray said he’s always been in business with his family.
“We started out in the installation business. Then I owned a portable toilet business,” he said.
Gray owns B&B Porta-Jons in Orangeburg.
“Basically, that’s how I met Watson, putting Porta-Jons in his peanut fields,” he said.
“We’ve been in family business for over 40 years, but been doing the portable toilet business for over 20,” he said. “I service a lot of the farmers in the area.”
He’s also a shotgun instructor and was coach of Orangeburg Prep’s sporting clays team for 10 years.
“Now I help all the kids over at the Calhoun (Academy) sporting clays team,” he said.
The operator of a sporting clays course in Georgetown hired Gray to cook peanuts for an upcoming regional event, he said.
His wife, Teri, is a teacher at Edisto Primary School. His son, Chandler, just graduated from Clemson University.
“Right now, he’s back working for me, running the business,” he said.
Of cooking peanuts, Gray said, “It’s just a good hobby that I’ve always enjoyed.
“And I really do appreciate the Piggly Wiggly putting on that contest. I just think it’s just going to grow and grow and grow, and it’s going to be a big contest.”