Burning Issue

     How many times am I going to have to remind you that this is NOT a food blog?  This is a blog about the world of laughter and imagination, as seen through postcards I’d like to sell so I can go on paying for stuff: a shameless cash grab which never quite gets around to telling you where to buy the things seen in the illustrations.  I just keep getting sidetracked by other matters on the old Interwebs, which exist solely for sucking you out of your day-to-day cares to confront life’s eternal questions.

     One of which, it turns out, is what I thought would be a simple Look-It-Up-and-Move-On sort of inquiry.  What is so burnt about French Burnt Peanuts.  This is that stubbly brown-red peanut candy I was addicted to as a young man, and still wouldn’t mind crunching in my spare time.  Of course, it was not that simple.  We fell into an international candy mix of Jordan almonds, Spanish peanuts, and Boston Baked Beans.

     Jordan almonds were produced in ancient Rome, although in those days they were simply almonds covered in honey, apparently meant to symbolize the contrast between the hard and soft, sweet and bitter, of married life, and used as wedding favors.  They started being coated with sugar during the Renaissance, and gradually became best known as wedding reception decorations, edible only if the rest of the food at the reception was slow in getting to you.  I ALWAYS felt kind of like that about Jordan almonds.  In the twentieth century, inventors in the U.S. came up with a coating system known as cold-panning, most famously used to produce M&Ms, but also used to produce Jordan almonds, French burnt peanuts, Boston Baked beans, certain sugar-coated pills, and those little metal balls you put on home-decorated Christmas cookies and absolutely classified by the FDA as inedible.  (My mother used to warn us not to put so many of those on the cookies for good reason.  They are considered edible elsewhere, but are, in fact, actually illegal now in California.)

     Jordan, by the way, is a reference to Verdun, where they were…no, it’s a corruption of the French word Jardin, or garden, which….no, it’s a reference to certain almonds grown along the Jordan River, which had…when the Interwebs doesn’t know the real answer to something, it lokes to give you every possible answer, so it has all bases covered.

     Anyway, if you take your cold-panning machine and toss in Spanish peanuts (which are from Brazil, but achieved their classic form of small nibbles with thin salty skins in Spain) and you are well on your way to M&Ms, Boston Baked Beans, and French burnt peanuts.  (We will not pause here to discuss their use in peanut clusters and peanut-caramel clusters sometimes called Turtles, although authentic turtles should involve cashews and/or almonds  These were invented by Chicago candy company De Met’s and called turtles because…did I say we weren’t pausing for this?  Let’s get back to candy in the shell…which turtles don’t…no.)

     Now, the Boston Baked Bean came AFTER the French Burnt Peanut, being introduced by a Chicago company in 1924.  (Why Boston?  Because they looked like beans, for which Boston was famous.  At last, an easy answer.)

     But about the French Burnt Peanut.  The answer offered by an online food etymologist (dannwoellertfoodetymologist) is that it descends from the German Burnt Almond.  Why didn’t YOU think of that?

     He finds these gems, billed as one of the oldest confections”, in a candy catalogue of 1918, along with the German Burnt Cinnamon Almond, which seems to have been much the same color as the French Burnt Peanut.  After World War I, he explains, Americans indulged the passion for Spanish peanuts and made them America’s main candy staple, starting with peanut clusters before World War I and developing into candy bars as years went by.  Taking the color of the Burnt Cinnamon Almond but not the cinnamon flavor, the almond and BURNT SUGAR coating were applied to the little peanuts and the nationality was changed either because of a)the War, b)a German reputation for pastry while the French were known for candy, or c)corporate feeling that it sounded more expensive.

     So there’s your answer.  French burnt peanuts are made with burnt sugar (used in a number of caramels) and are a German-Italian-Brazilian confection called French for marketing purposes.  And I guess that’s that, though I DID think the explanation might veer toward peanut brittle at some point.  (Hey, you want to know where THAT came from?  There’s an easy answer.  Nobody knows.  So there.)

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