Christmas Candy

Spanish peanuts. I remember the bags of Spanish peanuts. They only showed up in my mom’s kitchen in December of each year. It was one of the many signs that Christmas was coming.

Our kitchen was small and narrow with a long oval table big enough to seat two parents and four young kids. That table took up a good portion of the room. The room was so small that the table was always pushed up against one wall when it was not in use. At meal times, we pulled it away from the wall so there was room for everyone to sit. My mom had reupholstered the kitchen chairs with her own two hands and her sewing machine one year, and I loved to kneel on the smooth, cushioned vinyl of one of those chairs and watch her as she worked.

It would be dark outside by the time my mom began her task. I’d try to see outside, but the darkness on the other side of the windows only reflected the image of us in the kitchen. Watching my mom work in the kitchen provided a rare opportunity to have her (almost) undivided attention. Chances were that I’d have to share my kitchen time with a sibling or two, but sometimes I didn’t.

I’d kneel on my chair, elbows resting on the hardĀ Formica table top, my chin resting in the palms of my hands. The television was on in the next room, and Dad was most likely well on his way to snoring in his recliner. I was more interested in watching my mom. I’d observe as she expertly measured sugar, water and corn syrup in just the right amounts before pouring them into the big saucepan with the scuffed orange outer coating. She’d place the pan on the old gas stove and light the burner, stirring and cooking the sweet liquid mixture.

Eventually she added the butter and Spanish peanuts. She seemed to know when the time was right, cooking and stirring some more, the mixture growing dark, thick and bubbly. It seemed to roll and boil forever until finally it was done. Mom never used a candy thermometer. I asked her how she knew it was done. She said she just knew.

After she pulled the big saucepan from the heat, the baking soda went in. She would stir and stir and stir some more until the mixture was light and foamy.

On the table waited the old darkened cookie pans with sheets of waxed paper covering them. I’d watch while she divided the candy mixture among the pans. It poured from the pan and pooled in uneven circles on the waxed paper, spreading and flattening into smooth discs of brown, sticky, sweet goodness.

The hardest part was the waiting. It had to cool for at least an hour. When it was finally cooled all the way, it had transformed from a sticky liquid into a hard sheet of candy. Mom would peel off the waxed paper and then break the sheets into bite-sized pieces. The best part of watching this entire process was when Mom slipped me a piece and I’d stick it in my mouth, sucking on it, trying to make it last as long as possible before it dissolved into nothing. Even better was if I could get a piece without peanuts. I never liked those Spanish peanuts, but I loved the candy. We always knew Christmas was coming when Mom made her peanut brittle.

My mom doesn’t make peanut brittle anymore. I think I might give peanut brittle a try in my own kitchen this year. But I’m pretty sure I’ll have to use the candy thermometer.

17 thoughts on “Christmas Candy

  1. Mmmm, That’s a memory that sticks with you for a long while. Holiday candy seems to be a lost art form. My mom used to make date loaf candy every Christmas that brings back the same memories for me. I never liked dates, but when she made her date loaf rolls, I would eat them morning, noon, and night. To me, that was a definite sign that Christmas was around the corner.


  2. Like you .. it’s the smells and time in the kitchen that evoke Christmas for me. What a wonderful memory!! Maybe you can make her some this year? The only tip I’ve learned with making toffee or hard candy is to NOT make it on a humid day .. the drier/colder the day the better. For some reason, it affects how well the candy “sets up?”


  3. Candy was never high on my Grandma or my Mom’s list of things they made for the holidays but there were a lot of other aromas that would fill the house. Beginning yes, with cookies and of course, breads and fruit cake. (Fruit cake was the one item they insisted on making but which rarely entered my mouth!) But the “Aroma” I remember the best about Christmas coming was not exactly the nicest thing to smell as it was salted dried cod fish that had been put to soak in a pan of water that also had LYE in it and who knows now what other things were needed to soak that fish into something that would turn up on Christmas Eve for our Christmas Eve supper -along with boiled, buttered potatoes, a white cream gravy and creamed peas! There was to be no color or as little color as possible, by tradition, to the Christmas Eve supper and no dessert or cheese or fancy breads served then either. But after midnight church services, with my aunts, uncles and usually at least six cousins here too, we would gather for another meal -no fish, except for pickled herring, jellied veal with vinegar drizzled over it, maybe some Swedish meatballs, and lots and lots of breads and cheeses and cookies galore! Good foods, wonderful memories of great times with my extended family.


  4. What a sweet (pun intended) story. I imagine there are many who have fond memories of watching their moms make something special at Christmas time, and this story really conveys the warmth of a “Mom’s kitchen”.


  5. That brings back a lot of memories. My mom used to make cookies, peanut brittle, and toffee. We also had a large tray of hard candy and some candy canes out at that time of year.


  6. Now you see that’s what I was talking about when I commented on it being the quality of the writing, not the quantity. When I get to read your word pictures like that, I’d gladly wait for days between posts.


  7. I’ve tried peanut brittle maybe once in my life. But it was like the dollar-brand from the local grocery store, and it was like biting into a rock. What you describe here sounds like nothing of the sort. I may have to give it another chance sometime.


  8. When you mentioned spanish peanuts, it immediately brought me back to my childhood days leading up to Christmas. My mom never made brittle, but she used the spanish peanuts to make chocolate birds nests. Those were always my favorite treat during the holidays (along with ribbon candy), and I have tried to recreate them, but to no avail. Some things are just better when Mom makes them. Thanks for the memories!


  9. My mom also used to make peanut brittle every year at Christmas, so Christmas and peanut brittle are closely linked in my mind, too. I carry on the tradition and make peanut brittle at Christmas time, using my mom’s recipe. I’ll be making mine next week (and will post pictures when I do.) Of course I always have to sample it to see if it’s good enough to serve! :)


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