So I was listening to an album that I reviewed several years ago — Cuban legend Juan Pablo Torres’ Romantic Cuba — and suddenly my ears perked up and I had a strong craving for peanuts. The reason? The last cut on the album is a medley that includes “El Manisero,” a piece that’s much better-known in the English-speaking world as “The Peanut Vendor.”
It’s been described as the most popular Cuban song every written and has been recorded by countless musicians through the years; not only by Latin bands like those of Perez Prado and Xavier Cugat, but also by Stan Kenton and others. Vocal versions by everyone from Anita O’Day to Dean Martin have also done well.
But as I listened I kept thinking about peanuts, and I began to reminisce. It’s possible that I might just be remembering an isolated trip to a bigger city, but I’m pretty sure that we had our very own Planters Peanuts store in the small town of my childhood.
Does anyone remember those? Planters Peanuts had already been around for a while when they began to open a chain of stores during the early years of the Great Depression, and eventually hundreds of the goober emporiums would be spread around the country. They thrived for decades but are mostly gone now, although from what I gather there are a few of them that have been turned into nostalgia emporiums. There are also a lot of collectors of the various Mr. Peanut figures and other memorabilia.
As for me, I can still remember the narrow store, decorated with a Mr. Peanut statue and emitting the knee-buckling aroma of roasting peanuts to those walking by. It was impossible to resist and the thought makes my mouth water even now.