Tradition is the passage of customs and beliefs from one generation to the next, usually by word of mouth. But the passing of some of them may well be done by the simple use of a custom or belief without saying one word. For example, the fact that Peanut Brittle was always present during the Christmas Season for the child who as an adult became known as Pat Killen, as well as for her familial predecessors representing two generations prior to her constitutes a tradition, and Pat is making certain that her children and grandchildren continue making, eating and gifting to friends that beautiful, savory confection. Another example is the inclusion of Baked Corn With Oysters with the many dishes found at the Willis Christmas Dinner buffet. When my granddaughter, Kate Reed, is old enough to enjoy it, I hope that she carries on the tradition by following the recipe of her great-great grandmother, Kate Gehris.
It's Peanut Brittle Time:
For as long as I can remember, we always had peanut brittle during the Christmas holidays. Faithfully, my mother made several batches to add to the vast array of confectioneries our family enjoyed every year in those wonderful weeks of December. Let me assure you that making several batches was hard work back then, but later she found a better way--thanks to the microwave oven. It is such a foolproof recipe that my mother felt secure in giving it to my husband, Rich, to continue the tradition; you know that I jest. Thanks to the recipe, Rich is now the peanut brittle guru in the Killen household. My job is to make certain we have the necessary ingredients on hand and to acquire the all the colorful and appropriate tins and other containers for the finished products. Although we both love he taste of the candy, both of us also enjoy giving some of it to friends, neighbors and family.
The peanut, despite its several common names, is not a true nut; it is the pod, or legume, of a plant that has the peculiar habit of ripening underground. It is a concentrated food: pound for pound peanuts have more protein, minerals and vitamins than beef liver (I knew there was a good reason not to eat liver.); more fat than heavy cream; and more food energy (calories) than sugar. Fully half of the United States peanut crop is ground into peanut butter. Another common name for the peanut is "goober" or "goober pea." Those names come straight from the African word for peanut, nguba. Although peanuts originated in Brazil, they came to southern United States via Africa. George Washington Carver (1864-1943), a renowned agricultural scientist with a laboratory at Tuskegee Institute had a distinct part to play in the growth of peanut farming in the south of the country. The cotton plant presented the farmer with two problems: (1.) The cotton plant attracted the boll weevil, and (2.) The plant was also a soil-exhausting type. Carver argued, successfully, after a particularly bad year with the weevil, that the southern farmers should plant soil-enriching crops such as sweet potatoes and peanuts. Then he solved the problem of finding uses for those crops; he found over 300 products or uses for them. As you know, the peanut is a significant crop in the south today, and one or two of those farmers became rather well-known.
Now, the rest is up to Rich. Here he is with the recipe for microwave Peanut Brittle ala Killen.
1 cup raw peanuts (available in most groceries), 1 cup sugar, 1/2 cup white corn syrup, 1/8 tsp salt, 1tsp butter, 1 tsp vanilla, 1 tsp baking soda.
What To Do With The Ingredients:
Stir the peanuts, sugar, salt and corn syrup in a two quart microwave-proof glass pitcher or bowl. Cook uncovered on High for 3 minutes. Stir and cook uncovered on High for an additional 3 minutes. Stir and add the butter and vanilla, the cook on High for another minute. Add the baking soda and stir until foamy. Pour the mixture onto a greased cookie sheet. Let cool, then break it into pieces. Store the brittle in an airtight container.
It's Time For Baked Corn With Oysters:
As I said earlier, the Christmas tradition that has come to my mind for this post is Baked Corn With Oysters. It is true that in the home of my youth that dish was served as part of every Christmas Dinner. However, I must confess that it took a few years of aging for the younger members of the family to enjoy that facet of the dinner, but enjoy they did.
To make the dish, you need to become acquainted with and purchase Cope's Dried Corn. In 1900, the founder of the Cope food company began one of the first commercial dried sweet corn operations in the United States. Many housewives had produced dried sweet corn for their own consumption prior that time (and many since), but no one had done it commercially before Mr. Cope started his business. The plant was and still is located in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, the home of the Pennsylvania Dutch whom we have described in earlier posts. The Cope family, spanning three generations, has been making toasted, dried sweet corn in the Dutch country for over 100 years. When baked, the corn has a unique flavor and it has a beautiful golden color.
One cup Cope's Dried Sweet Corn, 2 tsp sugar, 2 tbs flour, 1 cup bread crumbs, 1/3 cup melted butter, 1/2 cup whole milk, salt, 1 cup oysters.
What To Do With The Ingredients:
To one cup of dried corn, add 3 cups boiling water and soak for one hour or more. Add 2 tsp sugar, salt and butter(not the melted butter) to taste and stir well. Simmer the entire mixture for 1/2 hour or longer. On the side, prepare a white sauce using the milk and the flour. Mix one cup bread crumbs with 1/3 cup melted butter. In a baking dish, alternate layers of the simmered corn, white sauce, crumbs, and one cup fresh oysters. Top with bread crumbs and bake until golden brown.
Bon appetit et joyeux Noell,
David and Pat
(Photo of corn by Gaetan Lee at http://www.flickr.com; license details there) (Photo of Peanut Brittle by Rich Killen)