Assembly member Debbie White breaks up peanut brittle she made in her home kitchen on Monday.

Assembly member Debbie White breaks up peanut brittle she made in her home kitchen on Monday.

Brittle be the tie that binds

Sitting on the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly takes quite the time commitment. So does making 240 pounds of peanut brittle. Debbie White does both.

“I don’t get a lot of sleep a lot this time of year,” she said Monday morning, laughing as she used the dull end of a kitchen knife to fracture a sheet of freshly hardened peanut brittle into bite-sized shards. One batch down, nearly 60 to go. “I don’t do anything halfway. I’ve always been kinda hardcore like that.”

For more than 15 years, White has spent each December turning 120 pounds of peanuts and 200 pounds of sugar, along with several other ingredients, into more than half a million calories worth of peanut brittle. White began her annual mass production of peanut brittle in 1999 when she became a real estate agent and realized she needed a “closing gift” for her clients. “I became known as the peanut brittle realtor,” she said jokingly. “It has kind of become my trademark.”

Since then, White’s fairly exclusive list of peanut-brittle recipients has grown substantially. It now includes about 150 real estate clients (some of whom have been receiving the candy since the late ‘90s), a handful of charities, political organizations and even a few governors.

Shortly after former Gov. Sean Parnell took office in 2009, White ran into him at the airport. As she tells it, she had some of her peanut brittle with her at the time and some to him. He liked it so much that she began delivering it to him each year thereafter. “He has quite the sweet tooth,” White said. She plans to continue the gubernatorial goober giving tradition this year and has already added Gov. Bill Walker’s name to her list.

Long before she was the governor’s unofficial confectioner — long before she was the “peanut brittle realtor” even — she was a daddy’s girl, which is what started it all. Before White and her family moved to Juneau from Spokane when she was a child, her dad would frequent a specialty candy store where he got the best peanut brittle, second only to his grandmother’s perhaps, White said. “My daddy loved his peanut brittle.”

Every so often once they were in Juneau, White’s father would see his favorite candy in different stores. “He would bring it home, take one bite and throw it away,” White recalled. So when she was 12, she decided that she was going to make a peanut brittle that passed his rigorous taste test. She told her dad she was going to the library to do schoolwork, but she headed to the cookbook section.

After researching several recipes, she came up with one of her own — a risky move considering she hadn’t yet tried any of them. It had to be simple enough to memorize because she feared that if she wrote it down her dad might see, and the surprise would be ruined. She used money from her paper route to buy the necessary ingredients (she was cooking on a far smaller scale then) and seized the first chance she got to make the brittle while her father wasn’t home.

“Looking back, it’s a wonder I didn’t burn the house down,” White said. “It can be a fairly dangerous process. I’ve ended up in the emergency room making peanut brittle before.”

Luckily, this wasn’t the case that first time. The peanut brittle came out well, so well in fact that it passed her father’s taste test, and she still uses the same recipe today. “He took one bite and he was over the moon,” White said. “He would tell everybody at work the story about how his little girl made him peanut brittle, I heard later. And if he really liked them, he’d even let them try a little piece.”

From then on, she has made peanut brittle every December, with the exception of a few. Twenty-one years ago today, her dad passed away. She stopped making peanut brittle until she got into real estate five years later. She has since found cooking as a form of coping though.

“This kinda pulls me through our dark period,” she said, taking a short break in between batches Monday. “It helps me get through the hard times. My daddy and I were really close. I was 100 percent a daddy’s girl.”

It is obvious that White carries the memory of her father into the kitchen with her when it is time to make peanut brittle. She smiles as she shares stories about him while she works. Her 25-year-old son Brian Keeney, a commercial fisher on a break between seasons, chimes in occasionally as he helps stir the boiling concoction, tasting a piece from the most recent batch.

“I’m just here for quality control,” he joked. But it’s clear he’s part of something bigger. He’s a part of a grandfather’s legacy, a daughter’s love and a family holiday tradition.

____________________

What goes in:

120 pounds of peanuts

100 pounds of brown sugar

100 pounds of white sugar

20 pounds of butter

8 gallons of corn syrup

About 100 hours of work

What comes out:

60 batches (each filling a 18” x 26” pan)

240 pounds of peanut brittle

About 580,000 calories

Raw Spanish peanuts get mixed into a boiling sugar and butter mixture as Assembly member Debbie White makes peanut brittle in her home kitchen on Monday.

Raw Spanish peanuts get mixed into a boiling sugar and butter mixture as Assembly member Debbie White makes peanut brittle in her home kitchen on Monday.

Assembly member Debbie White makes peanut brittle with her son, Brian Keeney, at her home kitchen on Monday. White makes and gives away about 240 pounds of the holiday treat.

Assembly member Debbie White makes peanut brittle with her son, Brian Keeney, at her home kitchen on Monday. White makes and gives away about 240 pounds of the holiday treat.

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