Monday, December 7, 2009

Candy and Christmas

It has become a tradition around our house at Christmas to make candy. One of my earliest memories is my mother's peanut patties (peanuts cooked in sugar tinted pink and poured onto wax paper). And then there was my Godmother, Ma.

Ma was older, in her sixties at least, when I came along. She was more than a baby sitter and functioned more as my surrogate grandmother. She took me to church, shopping for groceries, visiting her neighbors, and even to the soda fountain for a short Coke. It was an idyllic time in Hico, Texas in the '70's. Ma didn't drive and we walked everywhere we needed to go. Places seemed a lot closer in the '70's. I wouldn't even think about walking to the grocery store today. I barely like to walk to get the mail.

Ma is always on my mind at Christmas. On a holiday near the end of her life, she was spending her final days with my sister Vickie and lamenting over not being able to do her Christmas shopping. I told her not to fret, that the only thing that I wanted for Christmas this year was for her to show me how to make peanut brittle.

Peanut brittle is a simple enough concoction with a minimum of ingredients: peanuts (of course), sugar, water, "Karo Syrup", and finally baking soda. But the creation of this crispy treat is where it finds the balance between granite and Scotch Tape (read: not too hard, not too sticky) takes practice. I've since learned the science behind the candy -- the syrup prevents crystallization by acting as an invert sugar and you cook the mixture to just shy of a caramel -- but nevertheless, study and understanding does not necessarily equal good taste.

So, Ma gladly shared her recipe. She positioned her walker that she now used for balance in front of the stove, made a few missives about my sister's electric range (she preferred gas; so do I), and then set out to make our first batch. I diligently took notes and still have them in my recipe file today. I remember clearly that I should cook it until it "looks just right." (I clocked "13 minutes" at that moment.) Once you reach your temperature and with the flare of good flambe', you mix in the baking soda and miraculously a foamy, yet nuclear mixture appears: peanut brittle.

Since then I always try to make one batch in her memory. She left an indelible imprint on my life and that of my sister. Food is about fellowship and family and sharing love with one another. This year our family will make candy as well. Our truffles of pumpkin, tea, candy cane, Kirsch, Grand Marnier, habanero, orange peel, and yes -- peanut brittle -- probably say a lot about who we are. But mostly they serve to share the love of making candy for our friends. Hopefully Ma would be proud.

No comments:

Post a Comment