Sweet Spicy Snack Crackers…

IMG_3290In the South, we’re known for hospitality, especially for our ability to offer pickup foods at a moment’s notice. ‘Y’all come over, no- we’re just having pickup foods’ … It could be as simple as parched peanuts…or quickly toasting some buttery salted pecans, even  pulling some cheese straws from the freezer and baking them off to put in a little silver bowl.  I have to admit having a little snack greatly improves conversation! We tend to keep a box or bag of a favorite cookie or cracker, but we do have our standards! The best is a little 1 inch square cheese cracker we’ve all been eating, all across this country since the 1920’s! It’s dangerous for me to be in the vicinity of a bright red box of Cheez-its®! IMG_3287

The all time favorite snack cracker of my lifetime- Cheez-its®, to my way of thinking can hardly be improved upon; now, with so many different flavors on the market why would anyone even want to try? Well, on a scrap of paper found in one of my cookbooks- I had scribbled-

  • Cheez-its®
  • Melted Butter
  • Cinnamon
  • Brown Sugar
  • Cayenne and Salt
  • Bake

*No measurements, no oven temperature, no bake time…were on that scrap of paper!  Who even knew why I kept it? Recently, I needed a new pickup food. Of course I had a box of Cheez-its squirrelled away in the pantry! I have to tell you, everything else on that list has a permanent place here too! I thought about it- and here’s how I made them:

Camellia’s Cottage Sweet Spicy Snack Crackers

  • I preheated the oven to 350 degrees, and poured the entire box of  Cheez-its (12.4 oz size) into a large mixing bowl (approximately 4 cups more or less)
  • I lined a sheet pan with parchment paper and I was ready to go!
  • Cheez-its are baked not fried, so I melted a stick of Salted Butter on low heat.
  • I mixed together 3/4 cup of firmly packed Brown Sugar, added 1 teaspoon of Ground Cinnamon, a couple of pinches of Cayenne Pepper (go easy here) and poured them into the melted Butter.IMG_3288
  • On low heat, I waited until the Brown Sugar and spices were almost dissolved.
  • I poured the whole pan of spicy sweet mixture over the Cheez-its and tossed to coat them well, then spread them out in a single layer.
  • They were baked for 12-15 minutes, tossing occasionally until the crackers were shiny and the edges were carmelized.

After these Sweet Spicy Snack Crackers were pulled from the oven, I sprinkled a bit of Sea Salt over the top- not much now… When the crackers were cooled, I do admit to having to break some of them apart.  *If not serving right away, I would recommend storing them in an airtight container.IMG_3289

The results after just one try- were, to my taste- worthy of offering as a pickup food to drop in company!  I had some plump red grapes, a few fresh figs and small tangerines on hand. Okay, to make it seemed more like a healthy snack! It didn’t hurt that the kitchen smelled warm and spicy on an early Fall Day!

Love y’all, Camellia

*Cheez- it® are a registered trademark of Kellogg- under the name of Sunshine Bakery. This is not a paid advertisement, just a testimonial of how much we love them here at Camellia’s Cottage!

Parched Peanuts…

IMG_3424Parched is the Southern term for Roasted in the Shell Peanuts… Peanuts have always been grown in the South, yet when the Boll Weevil wiped out Alabama’s Cotton Crops in  in the early 1900’s, we came to fully appreciate the value of peanuts. George Washington Carver, at the famous Tuskegee Institute had been busy experimenting with the humble peanut.  By 1916, the scientific study of peanut agriculture was an effort to replenish soil depleted by constantly growing cotton, Carver introduced the South to the benefits of Crop Rotation! And Yes, it was the humble peanut, which rebooted the soil with nitrogen. Peanuts are actually legumes, not tree grown nuts. But what to do with all of those peanuts?? Smithfield® Hams boasted feeding their hogs with peanuts. Peanut Butter became a staple in the Southern diet.  Virginia, along with other southern states takes pride in Peanut Soup. Carver himself offered over 100 ways to use peanuts. However, this Southern snack food, the Parched Peanut had to be among the Top Three Favorites…

  • At Ball Fields, Circuses,
  • Hamburger Joints, Cattle Sales,
  • in Honky Tonks, Pit Barbeques and Zoos-IMG_3409

Folks tend to sit or walk around with a warm brown bag of parched peanuts! Peanuts are harvested from June to September. They are washed of the soil, then put on long tables in the sun to dry… these are what we call Raw Peanuts. When the raw peanuts are dried sufficiently, they’re put in big burlap bags and generally hung from barn rafters to store and dry out before being sold to markets or parched at home as a special treat. Believe it or not- even at the finest soirees- it’s not uncommon to find a big bowl of Parched Peanuts.

Peanuts are not the southern cash crop they once were; however small farms still grow peanuts for enriching the soil and for private consumption. There are some who parch shelled peanuts, however, there is nothing like the flavor of peanuts roasted in the shell, the aroma is wonderful! A curious thing about Parched Peanuts is that there is no specific recipe for them!

  • Some say- put the raw peanuts in a heavy Cast Iron Dutch Oven in an extremely hot oven- for an unspecified time! Until done.
  • Most say spread peanuts in an even layer on a sheet pan to parch,
  • Some say ‘salt the peanuts shells heavily’ – Other purists don’t.
  • Where recipes differ is the oven temperature.
  • Some say- heat the oven to 500 degrees, put the peanuts in; then turn off the heat; others say- spread raw peanuts on single layer baking sheets with the oven on low heat- (250 degrees generally) Parch until the peanuts are done…Okay.

The only way I know to tell you how to parch peanuts is the low heat method 250 degrees up to 350 degrees, then after 30-45 minutes…check. It could literally take several hours…IMG_3424

You will get the hang of burning your tongue when you check the peanuts. The husk is dry, the skins are dark red and fall off easy. If the peanut is still chewy not crunchy– put back in the oven.  Then there is always an instinct to parching peanuts. There are surely those who are born to be Parched Peanut Whisperers or Sniffers…they have a knack for just knowing… Burnt peanuts are awful…I say this with experience! Throw them out! However, I do recognize the time to check is by the nutty aroma. These days, I buy bags of ‘roasted peanuts’ – they will be stale… To revive them.. Parch peanuts in the shell on a single layer at 300 degrees for…well at least 30-45 minutes; checking after 30 minutes. Then comes a knowing… the sweet aroma of fresh Parched Peanuts… I whisper a sigh…IMG_2569

Now, listen darlin’ , Cotton may no longer be King in Alabama, yet every time I get a whiff of Parched Peanuts… I know he’s makin’ a comeback! Thank You Lord for the beauty of this red scrabble hard Alabama dirt, for fields ripe with harvest when the Cotton is high and for the humble peanut!

Love y’all, Camellia

*Our heartfelt prayers are with the wonderful people of the South’s Sunshine State, Florida- for safety and shelter from Hurricane Irma.