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Heirloom Candy Recipes Straight from the Cook

by Larry D. Hodge

Lucy Mason Hodge was my mother, and this is her recipe. Peanut brittle is probably the first thing I learned to cook that involved a stove and a pan. We grew peanuts on the farm and always saved a sack or two for roasting or making peanut brittle. Candy and fresh fruit from a store appeared at our house once a year, at Christmas. My father, Horace Hodge, sold fall-harvested sweet potatoes to fruit stands in Austin during the winter, and at Christmas time he would trade bushels of potatoes for cases of apples, oranges, and grapefruit. He would make similar deals with the Lance delivery guy for cases of candy bars. There were no rules on how much we could eat, or when. We always made it all disappear.

I made peanut brittle, and a lot of it was bad, at least by my current standard, even though it was made with the exact same recipe. It was not until I was long grown and gone from home that I learned to cook the candy long enough for it to get crisp rather than gooey. Be brave. Cook it until you think you've scorched it. Your jaws and teeth will thank you.

Lucy Hodge's Peanut Brittle First, butter a cookie sheet thoroughly. Slather it on. Put it on trivets. It's going to get hot.

Put one cup white granulated sugar, one cup white corn syrup, and two cups raw Spanish peanuts in a heavy skillet and cook over medium heat. Stir to keep the peanuts on the bottom from scorching; use a wooden spoon to keep your fingers from scorching.

Cook to hard crack stage. This is the critical part and where you will have to learn to hold your horses until the candy is ready but not for too long. I go by the color of the syrup bubbling up between the peanuts. It has to have a pretty good golden color to it. Clear means it's not cooked enough.

Things happen pretty fast at this stage of the process, so you should have at the ready a heaping tablespoon of baking soda. Remove the pan from heat and stir the baking soda in quickly. The mixture will foam and nearly fill the pan. Dump the candy onto the buttered cookie sheet. When cool enough to handle, run a table knife blade under the edges of the candy and flip the whole thing over to finish cooling; this keeps it from sticking to the cookie sheet. When completely cool, take it outside and whack it into pieces with the handle of the table knife. Why not do it inside? Because you will have to clean hundreds of tiny little sticky specks off the floor if you do.

Nettie Frances Hodge Wilcoxen West’s Pecan Pralines
I'm not sure when my oldest sister gave me this recipe, but I do remember she had written on it, "This makes the best we've tried." That showed she had done her research, a trait I admire. I am still looking for the best chicken-fried steak and margarita and hoping I never find them, because the research is the fun part. But I'm completely satisfied with these pecan pralines. I'm positive they don't get any better.

Start by putting down several layers of newsprint on a table, then sheets of waxed paper. You'll drop the hot pralines on the waxed paper, and if you don't have the newsprint beneath, it will melt the wax on the bottom of the paper and stick it to the tabletop, and you'll break the pralines trying to pry them off. Don't ask how I know this. Just trust me.

In a small pan, cook 1/2 cup white granulated sugar until it melts (caramelizes).

Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, cook 2 cups white granulated sugar and 2/3 cup evaporated milk over medium heat.

Add the caramelized sugar to the above mixture and stir it in. (Use a wooden spoon. Why? Use a metal one and you'll soon find out.) The mixture will foam. If the caramelized sugar globs up and does not get absorbed immediately, just keep stirring. That just means your mixture wasn't hot enough. As soon as the caramelized sugar blends in, add two cups pecans. Halves or pieces. If you use pieces, you'll get more but smaller pralines.

Cook to soft ball stage (230°F). Be sure a few drops of candy make a soft ball in a glass of cold water. Remove from heat and add a teaspoon of vanilla extract and a tablespoon of butter, but do not stir. (Italics were Nettie's. I don't know why, but when your big sister speaks to you in italics, you listen. If it's in Italian in italics, listen even harder.)

Let the mixture cool until it stops bubbling, then stir (with the wooden spoon) until the mixture just begins (italics mine) to hold its shape. This is the point at which you will most often go wrong with this recipe, but it can't be helped. Only experience will teach you just the right time to stop stirring and start dropping, and even then you'll wind up with a really big praline stuck to the bottom and sides of the pan once in a while. But here's some tips I've learned:

When you think itƎs ready, spoon one out onto the waxed paper. If it spreads out readily and doesn't start to set up immediately, stir some more. It's not cool enough. On the other hand, if the candy does not run and begins to change color right away, drop the rest of those suckers as fast as you can. I mean it. This is no time for conversation or a cool drink or a wipe of the brow. Get them out of the pan fast.

One Final Request These pralines and peanut brittle are part of my family's legacy. I've taught worthy individuals on both sides of my family how to make them and threatened them with culinary hauntings if they do not pass the recipe on. I ask that you do the same. There is nothing more Texan than good pecan pralines or peanut brittle, and we need to keep these alive so that generations from now, people who have no idea who we were will taste one of these and think of us with a sweet taste in their mouth.

Larry D. Hodge is Information Specialist for the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, in Athens, Texas.

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