“My earliest memory in life is drinking a Dr. Pepper, eating boiled peanuts and watching Georgia football with my dad,” Matt Davis said Thursday.
His Georgia Bulldogs ballcap was snug around his head as he hoisted his tray stacked with still-warm plastic bags holding quarts and pints of boiled peanuts. The father of six serves as pastor at Greenwood Baptist Church and teaches at Greenwood Christian School, but his side hustle is cooking and selling boiled peanuts.
The soft, salty, savory treats were an essential part of his childhood growing up in Athens. When the store there that he would buy peanuts from closed about 10 years ago, Davis decided to strike off on his own and try his hand at preparing them. Now he sells under the moniker Carolina Caviar.
“I just never got them the way I liked after that,” he said. “Some people do Cajun, some people do salt and vinegar. I don’t have the time to do a bunch of different flavors. ... It’s kind of like KFC, mine’s original recipe.”
His recipe uses the classic Valencia peanut, popular among boiled peanut cooks for its thinner shell, meaning more flavor from the brine gets into the nut itself. Normally he cooks on Thursday and makes deliveries Friday, but this past week was an exception.
Although he sells to people and businesses throughout Greenwood, he said he has a concentration of customers in Uptown. He walked from door to door, greeting regular customers with a smile and chatting with them about the day and how their coworkers were doing.
At a law office Uptown, Tara Calhoun bought a quart bag for herself. She said she also grew up eating these as a constant snack around the house. The hardest thing about buying a bag of peanuts, she said, is making sure the bag lasts until she gets home.
“For me, when you initially bit into the peanut, it’s the flavor that comes from the juice inside of it that makes it,” she said. “It’s just a way of life.”
Whether she’s buying peanuts from a roadside vendor or from an at-home cook like Davis, she said she enjoys all flavors.
That’s the case for Deirdra Higgins at Southern Soul on Main as well, who bought a quart bag for herself and another for a friend. She said the mix of a flavorful brine with the soft bite of the peanut makes for a perfect combination.
“They’re addictive. You can’t eat just one,” she said. “I had to cut down on my bags. I used to get two, but now I just get one.”
Davis said besides his love for boiled peanuts, he also likes selling on foot because it’s a great chance to meet and connect with people. Some of his customers know him well, and others only know him by the nickname he’s earned, “the peanut pastor.”
The busiest months of the year are behind him — despite the warm treat being perfect for cold weather, he said he sells the most during the summer when people are spending their days on the lake. During the summer is when he has helping hands: his six children, who like to get involved with the tradition.
“In the summer my kids help sell,” he said. “We start setting up to cook on Thursdays and the kids will help. In the summertime that’s always something they love to do. We’ll go out to Corley’s afterward and pick up a Cheerwine or something.”
In that way, Davis keeps true to the heart of what made boiled peanuts such a treat for him as a boy.
It’s a way to enjoy a tasty snack while also making some long-lasting memories with his own family.