Alice Sutton has been standing by a hot stove for weeks. Bags of sugar, jars of corn syrup, boxes of oleo and pounds of raw shelled peanuts fill the counters of the kitchen in her two-story house in Clark Fork. Waxed paper covers the dining room table.
Sutton can tell when the brittle is done just by the smell and the look of it. She does not use a candy thermometer. When the brittle has cooled on the waxed paper and is finally hard, she bangs it with her fist. It shatters into edible chunks, which she weighs and puts into plastic bags. One pound to a bag. A bag for $4.
Snow may fall and birds may clamor for seed, but Sutton doesn’t notice. Nothing deters her from the task of mixing up pounds and pounds of peanut brittle for today’s Clark Fork Christmas Bazaar.
Sutton is a member of the Clark Fork Lutheran Church. Annually for the past 20 years and more, on the first Saturday in December, the Lutheran women have joined forces with women from the Clark Fork Church of Latter-day Saints and women of the Methodist Church. It is an opportunity for shoppers up and down the Clark Fork River Valley to get the feel of an old-style Christmas.
The women gather at the Clark Fork Methodist Church Fellowship Hall to sell crafts, handmade Christmas treasures and home-baked delights. The Methodist women also sell toys, heirloom hankies and other second-time-around items suitable for Christmas giving. In addition, for a mere $3.50, shoppers can enjoy a hearty lunch of homemade soup, crackers, homemade pie and beverage. Lunch starts at 11. Doors close at 2 p.m.
All the money raised goes to worthy causes, including Christmas Baskets for the Needy, a project started by the LDS Church of Clark Fork and carried on, with LDS blessing, by the Memorial Community Center at Hope.
“The day goes by quickly,” longtime organizer Arlene Erickson says. “But getting ready for it, you wonder if you are going to make it.”
Sutton agrees. When she and her husband, Don, retired to their home base of Clark Fork in 1992, Sutton cooked an initial batch of 25 pounds of peanut brittle for the bazaar. It sold out. The next year she made more. And then more.
Over the years, Sutton increased the quantity; however, she never sacrifices quality by doubling the recipe. She continues to make just one batch at a time, washing the kettle in between. Each batch makes 21/2 pounds, and this year she made more than 120 pounds.
If Sutton sells out at the bazaar, as she invariably does, she will take orders and make more for those latecomers who cannot bear to face Christmas without her peanut brittle.
Sutton’s peanut brittle is so full of goodness and time-honored perfection that it is tempting to think she learned the art at her mother’s knee.
“I always loved peanut brittle, but we didn’t have it at home when I was a kid,” she says.
Sutton found her peanut brittle recipe in “a great old cookbook” that belonged to a dear friend. The cookbook is no longer in print, and Sutton guards her recipe carefully.
Although busy with many responsibilities at the Clark Fork senior center, Sutton does not want help with her annual Christmas Bazaar project.
“Oh, heavens yes, oh, yes, I make it all by myself,” Sutton says.
Those who buy her peanut brittle also have been known to eat the whole pound all alone.