Christmas tradition: Battling the boiling brittle
I must confess: I overdosed on peanut brittle.
Well, actually, I prefer almond brittle, and even then I seek out the shards without any nuts.
And when you’re the one pulling the molten candy across a greased surface, it’s easy to “make” these nutless pieces.
I blame my aunts, Betty Braswell and Evie Plankinton, for my addiction to this wonderful sweet.
The recipe, smudged with years and years of candy-making, came from Aunt Evie. Aunt Betty was the one who decided peanut (and almond) brittle would make a wonderful addition to the holiday baskets she delivers to family and friends.
Near as we can figure, it was 17 years ago that we — my cousin, Emily, Aunt Betty’s friend Connie Howerton and me — first spent a few hours pulling brittle.
Let me explain the process, for those of you who have never made this candy.
First you boil sugar, corn syrup and water to 280 degrees, then you add the raw nuts and cook the mixture to 310 degrees. Next add butter, baking soda and vanilla and stir until it becomes a rich tan color and puffs up (the magic of soda).
Now pour the stuff on a surface greased with butter and begin tugging, with buttered fingers, at the edges to spread the candy thin.
I don’t think I can really explain the pain we’ve endured over the years — the candy, remember, is about 300 degrees.
You learn pretty quick to not get the stuff stuck under your fingernails — oh how it burns — or touch it for very long. For a time we tried forks for the pulling, but the utensils are harder to control than our own fingers.
Aunt Betty can’t physically help, being confined to a wheelchair since she was paralyzed in a car accident 28 years ago.
She is, however, an effective peanut brittle supervisor, and each time the candy is poured out, she hollers “Pull! Pull!”
I must say, only Aunt Betty can say those words in a way that is both amusing and annoying to the point you just have to smile and laugh.
Though Emily and I have scorched our fingertips countless times, neither of us has any lasting scars.
Connie, on the other hand, readily pulls up her sleeve every time we mention peanut brittle — to display her battle scars from years past.
Last week we gathered again for a four-hour marathon to make batches of brittle.
Each time I promise myself that I’ll only sample a bite or two.
But the smell of that sweetness, and the mouthwatering way the candy melts on your tongue ...
Well, let’s just say I wasn’t hungry for dinner.
On the plus side, my indulgence each year ensures that my brittle addiction will rest quiet until the next Christmas.
And then: “Pull! Pull!”
But I wouldn’t miss this holiday tradition, despite the burns and the panic when the thermometer zooms up when we’re not looking (last week this very thing happened when Connie left Em and me in charge — she admonished us with a mock-angry “Girls!” even though we’re both 30).
Em and I have done this for more than half our lives, after all — that makes it a hard habit to change.
As for our kids ... I wonder when we can start training the next generation of brittle makers?