Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Great Peanut Brittle Escapade

Ever tried to find peanut brittle in department stores outside of the 1980s? You can't. But you also can't convince your mother that it is impossible. So I spent the weekend before Christmas sprinting from Dilliards to Belk to JC Penney and running to Target to Walmart to yes, Kohl's and racing through every supermarket in between. I reminisced with blue hairs who remembered the days of peanut brittle. I sighed at teens who wrinkled up their noses in confusion as to what peanut brittle actually is. I fought shopping carts and beat a gauntlet of red and greed-clad shoppers who were spinning in my wake as I dived toward a red box that I swear was swiped off the shelf in an utter state of ignorant bliss from the little lady who innocently put it in her basket and moseyed off in the opposite direction. I'll never know if I was close.
And why go through all this trouble? Because ever since my mother was five, she gave her father a box of peanut brittle for Christmas. The last man standing for cracking his teeth on peanuts and hardened syrup. So after days of no luck, she decides to make it.
Walmart didn't have light corn syrup. But Winn Dixie did. Bruno's didn't have fresh peanuts but Walmart did. So on Christmas Eve my mother broke out bowls and pans. Happily digging through all my cookbooks she found recipes for peanut butter, peanut souffle, peanut butter cups and cookies but not one of my thirty cookbooks had a recipe for peanut brittle. So she turned to the newfangled machine sitting on my desk and broke out the internet. Within two hours, she had a recipe and was on her way.
First thing she needed was the two cups of butter that I had just creamed with sugar for my annual Christmas chocolate chunk cookies. Snatching the phone and phone book, she furiously paged through the yellow pages for the grocery section. The first phone call ellicited nothing. The second, from my vantage, was a nice conversation about the need to close early on Christmas Eve. The third hit jackpot and my husband snatched up his keys and raced out the door.
Once ready, Mom started building her recipe with her peanuts only to realize that she had the no-salted ones. The recipe called for salted ones. Undeterred, she realized she could make microwave peanut brittle if she used whatever peanuts she had. Filling her bowl with sticky, light corn syrup, salted peanuts, brown organic sugar (because I didn't have regular), she happily put the concoction in the microwave and waited. At the beep, she jerked open the door and smiling, lifted the bowl. Pouring it on to the flat pan waiting expectantly on the stove, she grinned. Now all we had to do was watch the brown syrupy, sticky, lumpy mixture harden into cracky, crunchy, world famous peanut brittle.
Unable to wait, she checked it at the one hour mark. A little stringy.
Two hours later, a little chewy.
Four hours later, a little like taffy.
Twelve hours later, it cracked. Sucking in air in eager anticipation, she cut a small piece.
Looked up at me.
Placed it in her mouth.
Smiling, the taste was perfect.
Peanuts mixed with syrup. A little like peanut butter sandwiches with sugary sweet syrup instead of jelly. I can still remember when my sister and I would make them early on a Saturday morning right before cartoons.
All of a sudden, Mom frowned. Her eyes ran side to side. She pointed to her jaw. It wasn't moving. She couldn't talk.
Her teeth were sealed together.

Granddaddy got a gift card instead.