“Peanut!” – that’s what Rastas around here shout above the noise of your car radio to let you know they’ve got golden nuggets nestled in brown paper bags for you to enjoy. There’s a special nasal quality to their voices, that even after all these years I can’t imitate, but knowing they sound the same is important to understanding the allure of the peanut call. The Rastas station themselves on the roadside all over the island, typically close to traffic lights. My mum loves roasted peanuts, and she’s the person I and my siblings have to thank for being equally enamoured with them. (She’s got the “Peanut!” call down pat.)
If you’re lucky enough to hear or see such a Rasta, flag him down with your arm stretched out your car window. Pray that he sees it flailing before the light changes and the cars behind you want to move forward. The drivers will honk impatiently. What do they care that you’re hungry? If the timing is right, you’ll have a minute to ask him how his remaining bags are roasted: dark, medium or light. I like mine medium, although when my “medium” peanuts turn out pasty and sad I think I should just ask for dark. When that happens I wait till I get home, then spend 15 minutes listening to music or a podcast as I shell the entire bag to roast on a cookie sheet.
This isn’t necessarily a bad scenario, because then I can brown them just the way I like and combine them with raisins when they’re done. Otherwise, depending on how hungry I am, it can be a struggle not to eat half the bag before I get home to mix them with anything!
I can picture the seats and floor of Mummy’s car covered in bits of peanut shell and papery peanut skin from all of us eating them on the way home from school, or on Saturday afternoon runs. Like too-light-for-me nuts, the messiness of eating them in the car isn’t such a bad thing. There are ways around it – spread a larger bag or napkin in your lap – and it also helps me save enough for later.
Mummy would often buy an extra bag or two for us to shell, mix with raisins and take to work or school the next day. If you don’t already know the joy of sweet raisin mixed with crunchy, roasty peanut, trust me when I tell you it’s a delicious, filling combination. When I went to Ghana in college I was thrilled to see that the peanuts they sell on the roadside are pre-shelled. How was I ever going to go back to shelling them myself?! Furthermore, they’re always sold alongside sugar bananas, making another amazing duo. That was the gateway for me being able to eat bananas spread with peanut butter. (Before that, despite what she said, I thought my college roomie was a little strange.) Forget that whole honey roasted/salted/dry roasted from a can or jar thing. You haven’t tasted peanuts in their glory until you’ve had them fire roasted, warm, from the side of the road.
The Rasta you see in these pictures is Troy. I befriended him one day last week when I told him I wanted to write this post. He’s been selling roasted peanuts for somewhere around 15 years, and in addition to the peanuts he offers water, peanut juice and carrot juice. Troy wakes up at 4 each morning to build a fire to roast his peanuts on. (I know right?!) Cooking time varies depending on the weather, but it can take around half an hour to go through a 50lb sack. He makes the juices fresh each morning too, and has that system down to a science. He uses a silk scarf to strain out the pulp, so his customers get a smooth juice each time.
The standard price for a bag of roasted peanuts is $1. Troy offers a limited amount of buy 2 get 1 free specials each day. I’ve never heard of anything like that before, but I’m certainly gonna try and get one of his specials now!