Mark Ballard

A sugar-coated Christmas miracle

Many of my Christmas memories are sugar-coated. That’s because they were made in the kitchen with family and friends. With each Christmas that rolls around, there are always new opportunities to create brand new memories, especially if you are in a kitchen.

For years, a group of my close friends and I have gathered in a friend’s kitchen. Even though our schedules are tight, we always set aside a day to make candy and create memories. This year, the “candy” day spilled over into a second day.

The first day we made a slew of divinity, chocolate covered cherries and peanuts. The kitchen smelled of chocolate and, at times, slightly scorched pots and pans. I won’t linger on the burning parts of the day for fear of incriminating a friend or me.

We ran out of time before we could make peanut brittle, so we decided to tackle it the next night. Once again, we found ourselves in the kitchen that was once again pristine clean. We looked up my mother’s recipe in my first cookbook. I had seen her make it many times and I had, too, so I felt confident adding cups of sugar to a large pot. “What could go wrong?” I asked myself. After all, we made cloud-perfect divinity the day before and it was humid and even threatening rain.

We boiled the sugar mixture until it spun a beautiful thread and then poured in pounds of peanuts. When we agreed that the boiling, lava-like mixture was ready, I used two hot pads to remove it from the stove and, with some assistance, began to pour the peanut-filled, golden brown mixture onto greased cookie sheets. It was a two-person job or even more if you count the input from the others gathered around.

Once again, we smelled something burning only to discover it was a hot pad I had dropped onto the still hot burner. When added to the burning mishaps from the day before I feared we would never be invited back to this kitchen. Or, at least without new cook wear and hot pads. We carefully watched the shiny golden brittle as we waited patiently for it to harden so we could crack it apart.

Something looked wrong to me from the start, but I opted to keep it to myself. It didn’t appear to be hardening at the rate I thought it should. But others looked worried and several uttered bits of doubt to the outcome of our brittle. The more time that passed, the more hopeless it seemed. Testing one corner revealed that it definitely wasn’t ready to crack.

“You got what you got!” a friend chimed in as I cut my eyes in her direction. “It’s never going to crack!” Staring at what looked like a sticky mess, someone else mumbled something. Trying to be positive with a situation that seemed hopeless, I said, “Let’s not be negative. It still may crack. Let’s place the pans in the freezer and see what happens.”

We needed a Christmas miracle of a different sort —

One that involved sugar, butter and 5 pounds of nuts.

Out came the first pan and much to our delight,

It cracked and was a beautiful sound and sight.

“Can you hear it cracking?” I yelled with joy in my voice.

“I never thought it would so let’s rejoice!”

One friend tackled cleaning the pot. The rest of us cracked the brittle apart. As I took a little nibble, I said, “I think it could have used just a touch more salt.” “Not now!” everyone chimed out. “Mark, don’t push it. At least we got it to crack!”

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The peanut brittle after it finally hardened but before we cracked it up. Mark Ballard Special to The Telegraph

Was it the best peanut brittle we have ever made? No. And, it certainly wasn’t the prettiest, but it will go down in history as one of our best peanut brittle memories. As we all know, we don’t always remember the perfect parts of life. It’s the ones that are imperfect that later make us laugh and stay with us for many years.

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Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions or comments to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA 31208; call 478-757-6877; email mark@markballard.com; follow him at instagram.com/mark creates; or become a subscriber to Mark’s Facebook page.

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