Archdiocese Local

Classic brittle elicits memories — and contributions

Mary Burgett, a member of St. Patrick Parish in Scranton, waits for her latest batch of peanut brittle to cool. Burgett sells the peanut brittle and donates the money to the parish to help pay for a new parish hall. PHOTO BY GREG BURGETT

by Joe Bollig
joe.bollig@theleaven.org

SCRANTON — Yes, they grow plenty of peanuts in India.

Father Konda Reddy Nusi, MSFS, knows all about it, because he’s from the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.

“We grow peanuts a lot,” said Father Nusi. “My brothers grow peanuts.”

Although India has its own version of peanut brittle called “shengdana chikki,” Father Nusi had never eaten what Americans call peanut brittle until he became pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Scranton.

And it was made by one of his own parishioners, Mary Burgett, a teacher at Santa Fe Trail High School in Carbondale.

“It tasted good,” he enthused.

Plenty of folks around here would agree, because there’s something special about Burgett’s peanut brittle. It’s small-batch, hand-made, homemade from a recipe passed down through her parents.

She calls it “Grange peanut brittle,” because it’s made the way the old Carbondale Grange (a once-popular farm fraternal organization) used to make it.

Interestingly, Burgett never made the Grange-style peanut brittle until 2017. At the time, the parish was trying to raise money to pay for the construction of a new church. And now, the parish is raising funds to pay for a parish hall.

Parishioners were holding bake sales, dinners and other things to raise funds. She wondered what she could do.

“I was trying to think of something different that people might be attracted to purchase,” said Burgett. “There used to be a Grange, and they made peanut brittle. They’d cook it every night for weeks and sell it across the state. It was famous.”

The Grange is no longer active, and thus no longer makes its legendary brittle. It was time for a resurrection, thought Burgett. She rummaged around until she found her father’s old recipe. Her late father, Clarence “Bud” Vater, was a Grange member.

When it comes to peanut brittle, one recipe is pretty much like another. There are two things, however, that sets Grange-style brittle apart.

First, it’s made with Watkins brand vanilla. Second, it’s “pulled” to make it really thin. The way most people make brittle is to pour it out on a sheet pan and let it cool. Sometimes this technique leaves a brittle so thick that the eater could break a tooth on it. Pulling makes it very thin.

“It’s very thin, and crisp, and delicious because of the Watkins vanilla,” said Burgett.

Of course, she has a brittle partner — her husband Greg.

“I couldn’t do it without his support,” said Burgett. “He has many roles in all my fundraising projects.”

He shops for the ingredients, is a taste-tester, does marketing and promotion, and is the dishwasher.

“He’s my biggest fan and cheerleader,” said Burgett.

Peanut brittle is usually seasonal for Burgett, but this year, she began early because she was getting calls in October. Since then, she has made 38 pounds of brittle. She sells it for $10 a pound or $5 for a half pound.

It’s not hard to market the stuff. She put out a notice on the community Facebook page and in the parish bulletin. Mostly, the word gets out through word of mouth. People tell her it tastes just like the kind their grandmother used to make.

“It brings back some nice memories for people,” she said. “It brings back stories that connect to former residents of the area.”

Burgett doesn’t tire of her own brittle; then, again, she doesn’t get to eat much of it. Most of it is sold, and her family will eat what’s left over down to the crumbs, which end up as ice cream sprinkles.

So far, the parish hall fund is $380 richer for her efforts.

One of Burgett’s many customers is Rebecca Allison.

“I’ve bought peanut brittle for years, starting with the Grange,” said Allison. “But most of [the Grange members] got too old and frail to do it. . . . I was very excited when I heard she was going to do it.”

She buys a pound for herself and a pound each for her children. It’s a tasty tradition that brings back memories.

“Most people in the Grange went to my church (Community United Church of Christ in Carbondale),” said Allison. “I knew them all well and it just brings back a little of them. Some of them have passed away or are unable to come to church.

“The fact that Mary is carrying on this tradition is awesome.” 

How to order

Those who wish to order Grange-style peanut brittle may do so by sending Burgett an email at: mev56b87@gmail.com, or calling her at (785) 633-9330. Leave a message. You must be able to pick up your order.

About the author

Joe Bollig

Joe Bollig

Joe has been with The Leaven since 1993. He has a bachelor’s degree in communications and a master’s degree in journalism. Before entering print journalism he worked in commercial radio. He has worked for the St. Joseph (Mo.) News-Press and Sun Publications in Overland Park. During his journalistic career he has covered beats including police, fire, business, features, general assignment and religion. While at The Leaven he has been a writer, photographer and videographer. He has won or shared several Catholic Press Association awards, as well as Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara awards for mission coverage. He graduated with a certification in catechesis from a two-year distance learning program offered by the Maryvale Institute for Catechesis, Theology, Philosophy and Religious Education at Old Oscott, Great Barr, in Birmingham, England.

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