Exactly Five months – 153 days – until we open our eyes to a wonderful Christmas Day. I know, I know. Even in a normal year, there is a catch in the breath when we think about what needs to happen in the next five months. This year, we add on face masks, school openings, shopping in a whole different way, how to bring a family together that doesn’t feed the pandemic, and more and more. My purpose for pointing this out, however, is not to feed the anxiety that is pouring through our culture, but to ask you an important question: Where do you believe I can find the best peanuts in America?
When Dad died in July of 1993, he left behind his signature tradition of making peanut brittle for Christmas for the family, which extended and extended over the years. Actually, what I remember is that just when Mom had prepped the kitchen for baking and other goodies production, Dad would walk in and announce, “Well, I think I’ll make some peanut brittle!” I remember so clearly the look on Mom’s face, as she shook her head. It was either Dad’s blissful ignorance or inability to recognize what was going on in the immediate space of the kitchen, or his single-minded (read stubborn) decision-making. Whatever it was, out would come the pan, the ingredients, and the peanuts, that Dad chopped and crushed to create the wonderful treat.
So, that summer, and into the fall, when the realization arose that the peanut brittle wouldn’t just make itself, I transformed into a confectionary Joshua, upon the death of Moses, and took up the mantle and the wooden spoon, and began to do what I could to keep up the tradition. That was 27 years ago, and although I won’t proclaim it, I have heard from family and strangers alike that my peanut brittle is perhaps as highly ranked as any other. It is good, and I have tweaked the recipe over the years to make it better. I have recently bought a new pan, reserved for making the sticky stuff, and a new super-large baking sheet to pour out the two pounds per batch in one glorious blob. I still use the same wooden spoon that is probably 50 years old by now, and I make sure I can gather up the right ingredients: Karo white syrup, Crystal Sugar from North Dakota sugar beets, real butter and the rest. What I continue to use, which is fine, I guess, are the bags of Gurley’s raw Spanish peanuts, produced in Willmar, Minnesota, and sold in little bags in the baking section of the grocery. I’ll often buy 40 bags in order to produce the 20 pounds of sweet wonderfulness.
You see – I’ve discovered that ingredients do matter. In those early years when I would substitute the store brand syrup or just any old sugar, you could tell. I didn’t produce bad brittle, but the edge was off a little bit. It wasn’t great. So, my simple discovery has led me to act more intentional, more defined. Granted – I’m just making candy, not a vaccine cure for the pandemic (although I expect a little brittle wouldn’t hurt, America!). It’s not healthy, but it is wonderful tasting, and a treat in life, which by the way is not an overall bad to receive. If it’s done right, however, which brings me back to my first question: what are the best peanuts?
I’m willing to use what I have used for these years, and who knows but that those are indeed the best peanuts on the planet at $2.00 per 8 oz. package! However, I expect that some of you, especially those of you who live in the normal peanut growing region, may have access, or at least information about what is considered the best raw Spanish peanuts you have encountered. So, I’m asking your help. If you have the name or the company, if you would leave me a comment in the comment section of this column, I’ll check it out and experiment. I’ll even make a deal – if your peanut turns out to indeed be the best, I’ll get in contact with you and send you some of the world’s finest peanut brittle for Christmas this year – how about that?
One other thing to realize is that I really enjoy making brittle. It’s not the microwaveable variety, and it is terribly thin with peanuts that have had almost all the skin removed. It takes an hour to make each batch, and it leaves me with an aching arm from stirring the entire time – but I love it. The whole process prepares my heart and head for the Advent and Christmas seasons. I ship it off to my siblings around the country, who then can share it with their children. There is a sticky, sweet brittle connection that is formed when the sugar reaches hard crack stage. I am also transformed back to the years before I held the spoon and would wait until Dad would deem the candy cooled enough to have a taste, along with all the other traditions and surprising memories of celebrations past.
So, please help me with the peanuts, if you can, and in five months when it is cooler by 90 degrees, we can all celebrate the joy of a season – despite what whirls around us these days.
Word for the day: philthrum. It is pronounced like it reads: PHIL-thrum. In the ancient Greek, it meant “love charm,” with the simpler word, phileo, meaning “love,” or “kiss.” If you look in the mirror, you will notice two little lines running from the base of your nose to your upper lip. Physiologically, the philthrum, those little lines, is where in our development in the womb at about 2-3 months, the three separate parts of our face come together, and are merged and sealed into one. The result is a complete face, and two little lines. One in 700 babies fail to merge those parts of the face, and as a result, they have what is known as a cleft palate, which often requires surgery to finish the merging and seal what would otherwise be a gap.
The Greeks believed those little lines had something to do with love, and actually the curve on the top of the upper lip is known as “Cupid’s bow.” Lips and kisses were big deals to the Greeks, apparently, and to most teenagers. The other legend was that the two lines were a mark left by an angel’s finger at the moment of birth. Any way you look at it, it’s still a philthrum – call it the place where your face is superglued together…
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.