Peanut brittle and I haven’t been on speaking terms since, oh, junior high when, with a full set of adult chompers, I realized that one of two things will happen when I bite into the hardened treat: I’ll either crack a bicuspid (or feel like I did) or spend the rest of the afternoon prying the sticky matter from the divots in my teeth.
No thank you. The joys of brittle, I determined long ago, simply weren’t worth the dental troubles.
Earlier this week, however, a friend and colleague gave me a 12-ounce bag of Betty Jane’s “gourmet” peanut brittle, which was made by one of her Vienna neighbors. My friend even gave me a sample from her own stock, which was down to small broken pieces, crumbs, and brown dust. She was practically embarrassed by her rate of peanut brittle consumption.
Less than two days later, I understand. My 12 ounces are gone (although I had some help from Loose Lips, who obviously made unauthorized raids on my stash while I was away), and now I’m looking for my next fix. Fast!
Betty Jane’s brittle is different from just about any other I’ve sampled over the years, which, admittedly, has been few. (See opening paragraph above.) It doesn’t have the kind of tooth-cracking density that I’ve come to associate with brittle. It’s airy without sacrificing crunchiness, and it’s sweet without sacrificing good, salty peanut flavor. Now, I’ll admit that Betty Jane’s brittle isn’t the purest expression of goober art. I’ve had others that tasted as if the brittle were pulled straight from the Virginia soil.
But no brittle has addicted me as quickly as Betty Jane’s. I swear to the God of Goober Peas that I couldn’t stop eating these irregular pieces of brittle. At one point, I decided to check the ingredient list to make sure it didn’t include heroin or meth or something. Instead, I noticed a rather Old School list of baking ingredients: light corn syrup, cornstarch, even margarine. I was reminded of my own run-in with the Betty Crocker-era of cooking. It was yet another reminder that tasty things can come from humble ingredients.
Betty Jane’s recipe, it turns out, comes from someone named —- what else? —- Betty Jane, who kept her seven children stuffed with confections of all kinds. But it was her brittle that everyone loved, according to this backgrounder, and it’s her brittle that daughter, Bobbie and son-in-law John, are making and selling as an homage to Betty Jane. They do it right there in Vienna.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery