Heirloom Peanut Brittle — Four Generations and Counting

by Dorothy Reinhold on December 21, 2010

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It’s safe to say that every teacher in Malibu wants Matthew Miller, 8, in class, because that pretty much assures they will get a coveted package of homemade peanut brittle for a Christmas present.

And oh, what peanut brittle this is! Thin and delicate as parchment, studded with red Spanish peanuts, these shards of brittle just explode in your mouth when you crunch down on them. This is the stuff of peanutty dreams.

It is also the stuff of family, of tradition, and very much of the season.

Peanut brittle maker Charlene Underhill Miller, Matthew’s mom, doesn’t remember a Christmas without peanut brittle. She’s been making it for 45 years, from a recipe given to her by her grandmother, Marcella Arn of Kansas. She learned the tips and tricks of it in her mother’s kitchen, and now she is teaching her son to make it, as well. From grandmother to mother to daughter to son – four generations of peanut brittle makers in the Arn, Underhill and now Miller families have insured the legacy of this treat.

Heirloom Peanut Brittle

The recipe is framed and hung on Charlene’s kitchen wall

“When I was a little girl, my mother would make peanut brittle for neighbor friends. My sister and I would package it, put it in our red wagon, and deliver it with Christmas greetings. More than the fresh pine fragrance of the Christmas tree, the smell of peanut brittle means the Christmas season has arrived!” says Charlene, a family therapist in Malibu, Calif.

She loves to celebrate tradition and family, and now, as a mom herself, she is passing it along. “This tradition has been in my family for four generations, initiated by my grandmother and now witnessed and sampled by my son. When I pull my peanut brittle into the fragile and delicate pieces, I have an experience that connects me to both my mother and my grandmother.”

She is also connected to her mother, Dee Underhill, by the tools of brittle making. She uses her mother’s marble slab, heirloom pot and other utensils for just the right touch. As she talks about her cherished tools, her voice softens and she recalls all the ways this brittle has bound together her family.

Heirloom Peanut Brittle

A heavy aluminum pot and marble slab from her mother are the main tools, along with a favorite wooden spoon, kitchen shears, measuring cup and candy thermometer

When her brother married, her mother gave the new daughter-in-law a marble slab and all the other necessities of brittle making, including a framed copy of the recipe. Just the other day, both of her stepsons texted her and asked, “When r u making pnut brittle?” And Charlene knows  peanut brittle season has arrived come November, when her mother or her sister will call and ask, “Have you made your first batch of brittle yet?”

All across this city, the same question is being asked. “Has Charlene made the brittle yet?”

Heirloom Peanut Brittle from Grandma Arn

Making peanut brittle is very hands-on, especially pulling it thin

Heirloom Peanut Brittle from Grandma Arn

For Charlene, it’s not Christmas without Grandma Arn’s Peanut Brittle

Grandma’s Homemade Peanut Brittle

Do not double this recipe. Make successive batches if you want more than one batch.

  • 2 cups granulated sugarGrandma's Heirloom Peanut Brittle
  • 1 cup white Karo corn syrup
  • 2 cups raw Spanish peanuts
  • 2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda

In a medium heavy pot, mix sugar and syrup and stir well while cooking. When it has melted and comes to a boil, add peanuts; cook until light honey brown colored (300 degrees on a candy thermometer). While this is cooking, in a small ramekin, stir butter and baking soda into a paste; set aside. Butter the marble slab. When peanut mixture achieves correct temperature, remove pot from fire and stir in butter-soda paste. Then pour mixture out on a marble slab that has been greased with butter. Using buttered hands, quickly pull very thin. Brittle is quite hot, so work quickly. When you have a piece at the edge that is as thin as you like, use a kitchen food shears to snip it off and set it aside. Continue working until all brittle is pulled thin and snipped off.

Makes 3 packages of peanut brittle.


  • This calls for raw Spanish peanuts, which generally start to show up in grocery stores in November, in time for brittle making. You can also find them in bulk at some health food stores.
  • For best results, do not make this when it is very humid or rainy. The sugar will get sticky and you won’t be able to pull it as thin as you want to.
  • Charlene gets her cellophane packages off the Internet, but advises that you can buy them at candy or paper goods stores, as well. She recommends cellophane bags with pleated sides, for the best volume.
  • Be sure to use a pretty bow – wire ribbon is useful for this.
  • You may also package the brittle on a nice plate and wrap in cellophane.

What are Spanish peanuts?

An answer that is a mashup from several Internet sources: “Spanish” peanuts are considered by many to be the most flavorful peanut, and this variety is one of the four most popular types of peanuts grown for commercial use today (others are Virginia, Runner, and Valencia). Spanish peanuts are high in oil and flavor, have smaller kernels than Virginia or Runner peanuts, have red skins and are used mostly for peanut candy, salted nuts, and peanut butter. They’re called Spanish peanuts because those varieties – now grown in South Africa and the U.S., mostly – were developed in Spain, in the late 18th century.

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Logan December 25, 2014 at 12:31 pm

wow, my mom made this all my life, a very similar recipe, it was given to her by HER grand mother… from when you had to make your OWN heavy syrup! (also from the midwest) however, mine/hers does have an additional secret ingredient but unfortunately, I am not permitted to disclose it any time soon … but this IS close, just not close enough. MERRY CHRISTMAS!!


Dorothy Reinhold December 25, 2014 at 4:58 pm

As you can probably tell, I adore grandmothers’ recipes!


Michelle @ The Complete Savorist December 17, 2014 at 10:22 pm

This is one seriously delicious recipe.


Dorothy Reinhold December 17, 2014 at 11:36 pm

It really is! Charlene and her relatives really have it nailed.


Nancy Buchanan December 17, 2014 at 4:58 pm

Love this Dorothy! It’s always amazing to me that such simple ingredients, when combined with good technique can produce something soooo delicious!!!


Sylvie | Gourmande in the Kitchen December 17, 2014 at 2:34 pm

There’s nothing quite like homemade brittle especially around the holidays!


Danae @ Recipe Runner December 17, 2014 at 12:54 pm

I love family traditions like this! Recipes that get passed down through your family are always the best ones!


The Food Hunter December 17, 2014 at 10:19 am

I love posts like this.


Dorothy Reinhold December 17, 2014 at 10:32 am

Thanks Food Hunter!


Marjory @ Dinner-Mom December 17, 2014 at 10:16 am

Such an interesting post. Since my dd is allergic to peanuts, I can’t help but wonder what other nuts would work!


Dorothy Reinhold December 17, 2014 at 10:18 am

I would not hesitate to try another nut or even a seed like sunflower seeds.


sue nichols November 26, 2014 at 9:05 am

My father ran a peanut mill when I was growing up in Oklahoma and my mom won many a peanut brittle contest at their annual peanut sheller’s convention with this same recipe. We also gave it to our neighbors growing up along with a big bag of raw peanuts.


Dorothy Reinhold November 27, 2014 at 5:40 am

Wonderful memory, Sue! If you share her recipe with me, I’ll make it!


jenifer from texas December 22, 2013 at 5:41 pm

This is the same recipe I have been using for years. Just recently I have began using pecans in place of peanuts. It is so much better. I may never go back to peanuts. This is also a good recipe to use when making Honeycomb. Just leave out the peanuts.


Dorothy Reinhold December 23, 2013 at 8:05 am

Interesting! I will pass along your idea to Charlene. She is pretty partial to this heirloom recipe, but who knows…she might be willing to veer for pecans.


Sharon December 19, 2011 at 7:34 am

I’ve never made peanut brittle before – but this past weekend made 10 batches using this recipe — each and everyone turned out beautifully! Thanks for sharing this family recipe.


Dorothy December 19, 2011 at 5:08 pm

So glad you not only had success with this, but loved it enough to make 10 batches! Yowza!
What time should I be over to get some?


billie webb December 1, 2011 at 2:19 pm

so where do you purchase the marble slab from


Dorothy December 1, 2011 at 2:34 pm

Charlene was lucky enough to get hers handed down from her family, but you can get them at kitchen supply stores (pretty pricey, from about $35-$150). A cheaper alternative is to go to a home improvement store and buy a couple of 12-inch-square marble floor tiles. Although that is a fairly small surface, it might suit you, depending on your space. You could go to a tile store and see if they have a tile bigger than 12×12 (like a 20×20) or a bigger remnant, or a marble/stone place (like a place that sells marble for custom countertops), and sometimes they give odd sizes away or sell them for a small fee. If they have a remnant piece close to the size that you want, they will probably even cut it for you for a small fee. Consider the countertop where you will be working (what size marble piece will fit), as well as how heavy it is and where you will store it. If you can’t store it out of the way and have trouble lifting it because it is too thick and heavy, it won’t do you much good! Hope that helps.


Kim December 27, 2010 at 6:49 pm

What a great post! Peanut brittle is special in my family, too. My mom loves peanuts and figured out how to make this about 10 years ago. A special occassion hasn’t gone by without it since. So much so that she made enough for 150 people to bag as bridal gifts for my wedding. To me, peanut brittle will always be synonymous with “mom.” 🙂



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