How you doin’? Over the Memorial Day weekend a few weeks back a bunch of us were talking about our families and the passing of generations. The discussion centered on which generation in American history was the greatest. After a long debate, we came to a consensus that each generation since the founding of this union shared in and contributed to the greatness of America. Our families included.
After my father died, I found a box of “little treasures” that he kept for years. I never looked through the box of his personal letters and mementos; they were just there sitting on the top shelf of my closet. I don’t know why, but after the barbecue and after all the talk, I felt compelled to search through the box.
I found some tiny baby booties. I’m not sure if they were mine, my brother’s or maybe even my father’s. It’s hard to believe that my feet were ever that small. I found an old autograph book—a collection of long-forgotten boxers, baseball players and a wrestler or two. A Brooklyn Dodgers’ Ebbets Field seat cushion autographed by Gil Hodges, Pee Wee Reese and Duke Snyder from the 1955 World Series. I guess way back then you didn’t have to fork over $1000 for an all-star athlete’s signature.
And then I stumbled onto some hand-written notes—seemingly secret “code”–on a back page of the New York Times from 1904. There, scribbled in his own hand, over a picture of my grandfather Max’s presidential idol, Theodore Roosevelt, was a secret message. Max and TR? Was this story about Max being named an ambassador to some exotic foreign country or to a cabinet post? Was he returning from some secret spy mission? No, it was all about peanut brittle... not just any peanut brittle, but grandpa’s crunchy peanut brittle that was pictured with my grandfather handing it to T.R. himself.
I’d heard that my grandfather owned a moving company way back when the “vans” were pulled by horses. I heard the legend of how he had grabbed onto a rope that had broken away from a safe that his workers were hauling up to the 5th floor by block and tackle; he saved a half dozen kids below. I remember he used to tell us his heroic story showing us the burn scars on his hands. I also heard that he was a gentlemen’s banker, a stockbroker, even a tax collector. But now, looking through my dad’s treasured keepsakes, I found out that grandpa’s hobby was making peanut brittle—not just any peanut brittle, but brittle fit for a president.
As I read on, I discovered the recipe dated back to the 1870s or ‘80s when he first perfected his peanut “packin'” peanut brittle. Everyone, T.R. included, proclaimed that it was, the best peanut brittle on earth.
I found out that my grandfather started delivering his fresh peanut brittle to the Roosevelt family when they lived in New York City. When T.R. became president, Max was asked to deliver his peanut brittle to Sagamore Hill in Oyster Bay. In fact, rumor has it that his peanut brittle even made it to the White House in Washington, DC.
The cryptic, hand-written code turned out to be grandpa’s secret peanut brittle recipe. I couldn’t wait to get to the test kitchen and try it for myself. I fired up a copper kettle, added the sugars, syrups (grandpa use cane sugar syrup, I prefer corn syrup) and butter—just plain honest ingredients—and turned it into a steaming caldron of molten goo. At 305º I stirred in the Spanish peanuts, added the vanilla and then shut off the heat. I poured the magic mixture out on to the cooling slab. After a suitable cooling time, everyone agreed I had duplicated the peanut brittle recipe. Hey, grandpa, I aced it the first time.
While traditional peanut brittles tend to be a bit hard on the teeth (filling-pullers) and somewhat difficult to eat, grandpa’s secret recipe combines an abundance of Spanish, red-skin, US-grown peanuts into a perfectly-cooked, buttery, sugar brittle. The result is a much lighter bite that leaves a long-lasting, wonderful all-natural flavor. If you truly appreciate great peanut brittle, you will understand why everyone says, it is the very best they ever tasted.
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Yield: 1-1/2 pounds
You will need a candy thermometer for this recipe.
Be very careful especially if you children are helping,
as hot sugar is very dangerous and can result in serious burns.
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup light corn syrup (I use Karo)
3 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon baking soda
1-1/2 cups salted Spanish peanuts
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
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