by David Cecelski
The other day I was driving through Enfield, a small town 25 miles north of Rocky Mount, when I saw a sign for “Aunt Ruby’s Peanuts.” I had a little time to spare, so I made a quick turn off NC-581 and found the A&B Milling Company’s office, warehouse, and retail shop at the corner of Halifax and Franklin Street, just a couple blocks from downtown.
Originally established as a feed, fertilizer, and seed store in 1945, the company shifted to peanuts 25 years ago. The peanuts are legendary for their flavor and some folks around the state can’t imagine making their holiday peanut brittle with any other goober. These days the company doesn’t just market “Miss Ruby’s Peanuts” around North Carolina though. It gets most of its business via internet and telephone orders that come from all over the country.
The company’s managers welcomed me into their casual little retail shop and were very friendly, offering me samples of all their peanut products and sharing the company’s history with me. I tried their peanuts in the shell and I also tried their raw, honey roasted, roasted red skins, and chocolate-covered peanuts, all shelled. They were all great, too.
The gentlemen at the milling company explained that they purchase only “Virginia type” peanuts grown in northeast North Carolina. The Virginia variety, they told me, has the biggest kernels of any U.S. peanut and has a rich, meaty flavor. They’re usually what you’re getting when you buy fresh roasted peanuts at a ball game or at your favorite watering hole.
The company is continuing a local tradition. Early in the 20th century, Enfield had peanut cleaning and distribution houses all over town. Digging, shaking, and drying peanuts was an autumnal rite for local farm help and, for a time at least, Enfield was said to be the world’s largest producer of raw peanuts.
While the local peanut business isn’t as big as it was, Enfieldstill holds a peanut festival early every fall to honor the role that peanuts played in its agricultural heritage. Other North Carolina communities also host peanut festivals—Dublin, home of Houston’s Peanuts, in Bladen County, comes right to mind—but Enfield’s is by far the state’s oldest. The town has been holding its peanut festival since the 1930s.
As I write this, farm hands are in the peanut fields, finishing up the harvesting and drying of this year’s crop. Peanut buying stations are busy and warehouses full. Goober-laden trucks are running to the A&B Milling Company, but also to the big boys, like the Golden Peanut Company in Aulander, in BertieCounty, or Planters, just across the Virginia line in Suffolk, home of Mr. Peanut himself.
Excited to have green peanuts again, boiled peanut lovers are celebrating the harvest in their own fashion: they’re boiling freshly-dug peanuts, shells and all, in big pots full of salt water, sometimes over an open fire, and sharing the soggy delicacy with friends and neighbors. If you don’t want to go to all that trouble yourself, you can buy boiled peanuts for the next few weeks at many of the grocery, hardware and farm-and-garden stores east of I-95 and north of US-64. Look by the counter.
If you’re in the neighborhood, Enfield is only a short detour off I-95. Take Exit 154 and follow NC 581 east into town. Turn left on Halifax Street and you’ll see the company’s shop at the intersection with Franklin Street. The retail shop is open 8 AM to 5 PM, Monday to Friday, and 8 AM to noon on Saturday. You can also order their peanuts by calling 1-800-PEANUT (732-6887) or on-line at www.auntrubyspeanuts.com