Welcome to another installment of Tea and Cookies. I like to think of these recipes, with their emphasis on cozy yummy-ness, as a way to add to the mystery reading “experience.”
This time, I have a family favorite for you, and a story to go along with it.
The Haystacks Story:
My mom is the best cookie baker, ever. During the Christmas season, she would really shine: our house became an all-out bake-off of epic proportions. We rivaled the Nabisco factory a few miles down the road (I grew up just outside of Philadelphia). I’m surprised the zoning guys didn’t come knocking on our door. Are you running a bakery on these premises, ma’am?
Yummy smells permeated the house from the day after Thanksgiving (for us, “Black Friday” meant we’d burned a batch), until a few days before Christmas. Enormous tins and reams of wax paper took over the garage as Mom stockpiled enough cookies for friends, family, neighbors, and the zombie apocalypse. Potential recipients (NOT the zombies), coincidentally came out of the woodwork just in time to remind her of their existence, sometimes with special requests. Seriously?
Sounds so Christmas-y, right? For sure, it was fun, and memorable, but you know there’s a dark side to this story, bwahaha. And, no, it wasn’t the size of our waistlines, which miraculously didn’t expand to rival Santa’s. Maybe we were a leetle bit sick of cookies because we were around them so much.
The major drawback: it was a ton of work. As a little kid, I didn’t realize this. My priority was to wheedle as many cooling cookies from the table as I could. Once I got old enough to be of practical help, however, I could see the stress involved, the desire to meet – or exceed – expectations, year after year. But we were all in it together (my dad, too: he was the wash-up guy). There were a lot of in-jokes, and times when we were incredibly silly, in that punchy-tired sort of way. Folks enjoyed the cookies so much. It was a tradition.
When I was old enough, there were certain simple recipes my mom would trust me to make on my own, during the afternoons when I was home from school and she was still at work. Haystacks was one of those. It was only three ingredients – chow mein noodles, spanish peanuts, butterscotch morsels. There were no microwaves back then, but a pot on the stove to melt the butterscotch wasn’t that much more difficult. What could go wrong?
One afternoon, it was my job to make the haystacks. It was my first time solo, and Mom had left out the recipe, and all the ingredients.
I was sailing along until I got to the Spanish peanuts, also called (although I didn’t know it at the time) “redskin” peanuts. These nuts didn’t look anything like peanuts I’d seen before: they had these peeling flakes of reddish skin on them. That didn’t look too appetizing, in my mind.
I checked the recipe, again. Nope, it didn’t say anything about skins on peanuts. She must have gotten them on discount.
Sigh. I was going to have to peel them. Every blessed one.
Finally, exhausted but satisfied with the results, I had the last batch hardening on wax paper when my mom came home from work.
Proud of my efforts, I showed her the bowl of cast-off peanut skins and talked about that time-intensive extra step. Could she get the regular kind next time?
Her face went from confused to surprised to laugh-out-loud.
“You weren’t supposed to peel them! We pay extra for them to come that way!”
Apparently, spanish peanuts are prized for their colored skins and extra flavor. Who knew?
We had a good laugh over that one.
Nowadays, spanish peanuts are less common in the stores anyway, so for this recipe, go for the regular salted peanuts (not dry-roasted, they taste kind of weird in butterscotch). Besides, peeling them takes forever!
12 oz butterscotch morsels
3/4 cup Spanish peanuts (regular peanuts can be substituted)
1 and 1/2 cups chow mein noodles
Melt morsels in microwave, according to package directions. Mix in noodles and peanuts until fully integrated. Drop in heaping spoonfuls (not too big) onto a cookie sheet lined with waxed paper. Refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour. Makes 2 dozen clusters.
These aren’t exactly cookies – you can tell I’m stretching the definition a bit – but because of their sweetness, they pair really well with a crisp green tea, or maybe a cinnamon herbal chai.
What fun stories do you have to share about baking? I’d love to hear from you.
Until next time,