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 hard 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.