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Homemade peanut brittle a sought-after gift

Sanford Frye can “survive” in a kitchen and fix himself a meal with no problem – but his reputation for making peanut brittle hasn’t just survived – it’s thrived.

People get excited when they talk about him.

He learned a little about cooking by helping his mother in the kitchen. Sanford’s two sisters, who were 12 years younger, were too young to help.

“While my mother took care of the girls, she’d send me in the kitchen to do things like turn the oven on, cut, or stir – just whatever had to be done,” he said.

About 35 years ago, Sanford was working for Duke Power and setting a pole and running new wires for a customer at a house off US 158. The customer’s brother, Vernon Whitaker, lived across the street and was a rural mail carrier for many years.

“He was a Boy Scout leader, active in his church, and just an overall good guy – and his son worked at Duke Power with us, so we knew him really well,” Sanford said.

Vernon walked across the street to the house where the men were working and brought some homemade peanut brittle. Sanford was no fan of hard brittle as it was too rough on his teeth. But he took a piece and tried it anyway. The brittle was different than the hard candy Sanford had tasted before, and the minute he ate it, he wanted more.

He asked Vernon for the recipe, but the man wouldn’t give it to him.

“He offered to make it for me if I’d bring him the ingredients. He wouldn’t make it unless it was at least 26 degrees outside.”

Vernon had a picnic table with brick turned sideways on top of it. He would carry the sheet of brittle out there and set it on the bricks to cool down.

For two years, Sanford took him the ingredients, and Vernon made the peanut brittle for him. The brittle maker’s daughter then put the recipe in her church cookbook.

“After that, he finally gave me the recipe – I guess he figured he might as well give it to me.”

Sanford’s been making it ever since. Usually, he makes it from the end of October through Christmas. He uses raw peanuts that have to be shelled – two full cups per batch.

“I’m not shelling them. I get the nuts from the ladies of the Eastern Star. I’ve already put in my order for 12 packs.”

He makes it for people to eat when they come by his home, or he gives the candy away as a gift.

“I carried it to my billiard club, pool league, and dart league, and everyone loved it, too. I gave it to one of the women. She didn’t want to eat it at first, either, but she tried it and then wanted the recipe.”

He’s been making the sweet, crunchy confection for her every year now – two or three batches.

“She would take it to the nurses at the Forsyth Hospital in Winston-Salem. They’ve already asked her if she’s going to be able to bring it this year.”

He’s had times the candy didn’t turn out good. The timing is the biggest thing.

You have to boil the sugar, Karo syrup, and water. Bring that to a boil, and cook it until you spin a thread. Sanford doesn’t even use a thermometer. But you’ve got to make sure you cook it long enough.

When you pour the two cups of peanuts in, make sure they’re all covered. After adding the salt and butter, cook until the peanuts look amber-colored.

Then add baking soda and quickly stir. You have to pour it out really fast on a cookie sheet and put it in the freezer as quickly as possible.

Sharing his secrets, Sanford pointed out, “The quicker you can put it in the freezer, the better, and almost immediately after you pour it into the sheet. That’s what sets it. If you don’t, air will get into it, and it will be like regular, hard peanut brittle.”

His wife, Linda, has an important job in the process. She helps her husband by doing the leg work, carrying it downstairs to put it in the freezer.

“I can’t go up and down steps anymore. That’s a very important job, getting it in the freezer quick,” he said.

The brittle will stop shrinking if you get it in the freezer fast enough. The timing of cooking it long enough, putting peanuts in, and getting it in the freezer are the main tips about having it turn out good.

“I tried to teach my friend, Mark Corriher, how to make it. I told him how, but he said it didn’t turn out right.”

Sanford’s had a few batches himself that he’s had to throw out over the 30 years he’s been making the candy.

And not everyone can eat brittle. The hard candy can stick to your teeth. It can be so crunchy and hard that it can break false teeth. But Sanford’s brittle is not like a hard caramel but soft, like a krispie-kind of crunch.

Not only does he make good candy, but he also makes delicious chicken and dumplings. His dumplings are made from scratch.

When going to his family reunions, Sanford carries a big cooker full of this southern favorite – and he never brings any back home.

“I do a pretty good job with that, everyone says. It’s just something people don’t get a lot of. They either come from a can or are frozen dumplings.”

Sanford said most people don’t know he makes the brittle and gives it away.

“I’ve never sold any of it.  I give away my chicken and dumplings, too.”

I discovered something else about this man.

Sanford’s kind of like his not-so-hard brittle – he has a soft spot – and he’s not as hard as people might think. He has a good heart.

“I enjoy making it. I guess I enjoy people enjoying it better than I enjoy making it. I don’t mind making it at all. It just takes time.”

Indeed, it is a pleasure to give just for the pleasure of giving.

God says we should give with no expectation of return or recognition.

Matthew 6:3 reads, “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (NIV)

I don’t know about you, but the closer we get to Halloween, the more I have candy on the brain. Enjoy these sweet and rich confection recipes. You can get creative with the barks – adding any of your favorite kinds of nuts, dried fruits, or candy pieces. With just a few ingredients – there’s nothing easier. The bars and barks make great gifts, too.

VERNON WHITAKER’S PEANUT BRITTLE

½ cup white corn syrup

½ cup water

2 cups sugar

2 cups raw nuts

2 Tbsp. salted butter

1 tsp. salt

1 Tbsp. baking soda

Cook water, sugar, and syrup on medium high until it spins a thread when dropped from the stirring spoon. Add peanuts, and while stirring occasionally, cook until it turns amber and begins to pop or smell parched. Then add butter and salt and stir. Add soda and stir FAST. Pour quickly on a rimmed cookie sheet, and immediately put in the freezer or outside if temperature is below 26 degrees F. Tip: Use a 6-quart Teflon pot and stir with a wooden spoon. To clean pot, put in cold water immediately. Be careful when adding soda as mixture will bubble up.

CHOCOLATE PEANUT BUTTER NUT BARS

2 beaten eggs

8 Tbsp. melted, salted butter

1 cup peanut butter

1 pkg. Duncan Hines plain yellow cake mix

2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

14 oz. can condensed milk

3 Tbsp. melted, salted butter

1 Tbsp. pure vanilla extract

1 cup chopped pecans

In a mixer, beat eggs. Add melted butter, peanut butter, and cake mix. Mix well. Reserve 1 ½ cup for topping. Press mixture down in bottom and up 1-inch on sides of a 13 x 9 baking pan. For filling, in a saucepan, combine the chocolate chips, condensed milk, and butter, and cook over low heat for 5 minutes or until melted. Stir in the extract and nuts. Pour the mixture over the crust spreading evenly. Drop spoonfuls of reserved dough on top of the chocolate filling. Bake in a 325-degree oven for 20-25 minutes or until done.

PECAN PIE BARS

2 cups all- purpose flour

¼ cup brown sugar

1 stick salted butter

3 beaten eggs

14 oz. condensed milk

2 Tbsp. lemon juice

1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract

1 ½ cups chopped pecans

In a mixer, combine flour and brown sugar. Cut in butter until the mixture is crumbly. Press into the bottom and 1-inch up sides of an ungreased 13 x 9 baking pan. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 15 minutes or until golden. For the filling, in a mixer, beat eggs. Add condensed milk, lemon juice, extract, and pecans, and mix well. Pour mixture over baked crust. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 25 minutes or until filling is set. Cool before cutting.

PEANUT BUTTER &

MILK CHOCOLATE BARK

1 cup milk chocolate chips

1 cup peanut butter chips

½ cup chopped salted peanuts

In a saucepan, melt chocolate and peanut butter chips over low heat while stirring. Remove from heat and stir in peanuts. Spread on a foil-lined cookie sheet. Refrigerate 1 hour or until hardened. Break into pieces.

MACADAMIA NUT & FRUIT BARK

1 lb. pkg. vanilla candy coating

½ cup dried raisins or cranberries

3 ½ oz. macadamia nuts

In a saucepan, melt candy coating over low heat while stirring. Remove from heat, and stir in nuts and fruit. Spread on a foil-lined cookie sheet. Cool completely and then break apart into pieces.