The whole house smelled like burned hair. My wife, charitably, told me that it smelled more like burned sugar. Which it was. She said it reminded her of creme brulee. "People pay top dollar for that experience," she reminded me.
I was not cheered. For the first time, I had botched an entire batch of peanut brittle. After years of becoming more and more reliable with each passing year, I managed to destroy a whole pot of sticky goodness.
Charred might be the best way to describe it. I chose to go ahead with the project even though my taster and spotter, the aforementioned wife, was not in attendance. This turned out to be a bad choice. Had she been there, I would have had someone to look over my shoulder and question my process. Instead, I forged ahead. With the next two weeks full of additional commitments and distractions, I picked last Thursday night to make peanut brittle. As it turned out, I should have waited. To get it right, it really takes two.
Of course, I know that my father routinely poured out batch after batch in my parents' kitchen reliably over years. But he was a machine. My mother had the day shift, baking cookies and making fudge in the same mad flurry. It was all part of feeding the neighborhood. And the gang in the bindery. And the relatives around town. And anyone who stumbled across into our doorway during the month of December. No one would go without some Chocolate Crinkles. Or some fudge. But especially the peanut brittle.
So each year, around this time, I attempt to recreate that machine in my own kitchen, signalling the beginning of the holiday season. There is a somewhat substantial financial entree into this business. Sixteen ounces of Karo syrup runs about six dollars. Raw peanuts? Try and find them. The time it takes to stand over that pot and get the mix to just the right temperature?
The supplies are brought in by my wife, who is invaluable in that role. She is also the one who drops in the mix of vanilla and soda at just the right moment, after making sure we had reached the critical juncture of peanut readiness and brittle crackliness. Foolishly, I took that bunch of sugar and nuts and tried to make it happen all by myself.
The result was reminiscent of the Horta from the "Devil in the Dark" episode of Star Trek. No use trying to mind meld with this one. It's dead, Jim.
I know I will get another shot. There are too many people counting on me. At least that's what I like to tell myself. I've made sticky peanut chew that was never brittle. I've scorched a few batches. But I have never had a batch that went straight to the compost. Now it's time for redemption.
With a little bit of help from my friends.