Every Christmas season, it seemed, as Mom moved into full baking and goody making mode, with the kitchen all laid out for the various goodies she planned to make, having carefully structured the entire room for her Christmas contribution to the Cross family sweet tooth – every time, when she was just revving up to do that important work that we all enjoyed, respected and craved, Dad would walk into the kitchen and announce, “Well – I guess it’s time to make some peanut brittle!”
I’m glad that for the most part, I was too young and innocent to understand the power of the evil eye my mother would shoot at my dad, as her shoulders slumped and she began disassembling Christmas goodie war room until another time, probably when Dad would be at work…
I know it sounds like Dad was kind of selfish in all of this, which he probably was, but you need to understand that, outside of grilling and the occasional meal of chipped beef gravy (not made with hamburger, but out of dried beef from little jars) when Mom was gone to a meeting around dinner time, Dad’s only other contribution in terms of any cooking consisted of him saying, “This is a great meal, Lady!” Except for one other event – Peanut Brittle Campaign.
Dad was a self-described legend in the peanut brittle world. Every year he would make a number of batches of the brittle to share with family, and to take to work so everyone who worked for him could ooh and ahh over the wonderful tasty treat that the colonel brought…
He had his own technique. Going beyond the work of just taking the skins off the peanuts before they would be dropped into the pan of boiling sugar, Dad wanted to ensure that each and every bite had the same amount of nuts, so he would chop – nay, pulverize the peanuts so they were no longer distinguishable as peanuts per se. He also made sure that the brittle was not too thin, so he would spread it out at an even ¼ inch thickness. It was good. And of course, it was awarded the oohs and ahhs from the children everytime Dad would bring it out from his secure lock and key hiding place, to make sure that there would be enough to last until Christmas. Some outsiders might opine that Christmas candy was good to eat any time, and if it ran out, that just meant it was well appreciated, but that was not the logic path Dad took. Great memories.
Dad died in the summer of 1993. One of the unforeseen consequences of his death came around November, when we realized he wouldn’t be making peanut brittle that year, after a good 25-30 year reign. So, I don’t know how it happened, but somehow, something or someone tapped me on the shoulder, and seemed to say, “Take up the wooden spoon, Randy – it’s up to you now.” You see, I had tried to emulate Dad by making some candy of my own – I made a pretty good divinity (which seemed to fit, since I was a pastor) and could dip most anything in a pan full of melted chocolate bark. The idea of taking over seemed a bit daunting, except I wasn’t taking it away. I figured Dad was busy making the peanut brittle in the kitchen in heaven amidst the oohs and ahhs from divine voices…
So in the Christmas season of 1993 I said yes. I knew Dad had actually used the recipe found in the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook that Mom had actually given to me when I went off to college. Sure enough, there on the sugar and butter stained page was the fairly simple recipe for making wonderful stuff. 27 years later, the tradition continues, and yesterday I began PBC 2020. Otherwise known as Peanut Brittle Campaign.
I’m not one to boast, because in part I don’t need to, but every single individual over the last 27 years who has had a piece of my homemade peanut brittle has offered without reservation that this is the best peanut brittle they have ever tasted! Every age range, college students, colleagues, bishops, parents of hair stylists, and, if you can imagine, my own brothers and sisters and their offspring. Some have come back and asked how they can buy it, or that it should become my new career. Now that’s all flattering, but given the fact that I make a “small batch” peanut brittle, of two pounds at a time, with carefully culled ingredients, and that the mystery would probably disappear if I tried to vend it, I just give it away.
Seriously, it is pretty good stuff. Over the years, I have taken the recipe and tweaked it a bit. Always make sure the peanuts are as fresh as possible, use sugar beet sugar from up here in the northland, and (I won’t give the secret completely away) pay some attention to what you put it, including salt and butter. A couple of years ago, I purchased a professional baking sheet that is just shy of three feet wide – about the size of two sheets put side by side, which is where I used to pour 300-plus degree brittle sluice to cool, usually getting things uneven between the two sheets. Now, I can just pour it to my heart’s content and create a huge two-pound mass of brittle. Oh, and sorry Dad, but don’t chop those peanuts up! The beauty of the taste is to have some separation between nut and brittle.
So as I mentioned, yesterday began the campaign. I currently send to my siblings all over the country, to Cheri’s mom and siblings, and make enough to give to my hair stylist, and a couple of bishops I know. I make enough as well for Cheri to take to work, and of course for us to enjoy – anytime – at home. This year, I expect to make about 20 pounds of the stuff, one batch a day. It’s just one of my contributions to make our world a happier place, and to increase the number of “yums per second” when it is consumed.
What do you do to bring joy? You see, my intention is not simply to make the candy. My intention is all of this, I think, is what Dad’s was – to make people happy, and to receive a treat in life, and to celebrate a special season. That, of course, should be our intention in so much of what we do in life: to en-joy this world – that in everything we do, we at least attempt and intend to infuse joy into the fabric of other’s lives, and into the taste buds of this earth.
I would ask you this year – especially this year, when there has been so much in our world that gave the strongest effort to suck joy from the face of the earth – I ask you to intend to bring the sense of well-being and delight in life to those around you. That’s better than any other Christmas present – and almost better than my peanut brittle…
Word for the Day: butyraceous. This is an easy one. byoo-tuh-RAY-shuss. It comes from the Latin, butyrum – meaning “butter.” The “aceous” is our suffix for having the quality of or characteristic of… So, something that is butyraceous is usually something we lick our lips for – like peanut brittle. Unless of course you don’t like butter… who is that? Anyway, when you sit down to watch a movie tonight, be sure to make that popcorn nice and butyraceous…
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.