Wednesday, December 19, 2012

My mother's spiced Christmas nuts

A scene from my childhood in my mother's kitchen:  Warm incandescent lighting overhead.  A week before Christmas in upstate New York.  Dinner finished, dishes done and put away.  Kitchen windows steamed over.  Darkness outside.  Sitting on top of the formica and chrome dinette table.  My mother at the stove, stirring something fragrant in her Farberware skillet.  Heady scent of warm spices in the kitchen.  My mother humming.  A large, yellow Pyrex bowl nearby with a mixture of confectioners' sugar and spices.  Small red and white tins of McCormick spices on the table.  An open box of Domino confectioner's sugar.  A roll of red cellophane and some green and red curling ribbon next to the yellow bowl, along with a pair of scissors.

It is bedtime, but I want to stay in the kitchen with my mother instead of going to bed.  I want to see what she is going to do with this delicious smell she is making.  I peer into the skillet, craning my neck from my perch on the table top and I see she is stirring peanuts in that skillet.  Two empty cans of Planter's cocktail peanuts, along with their pull-off metal pop-tops are on the countertop nearby.  I look at the blue cans and smile at Mr. Peanut.  He is so dapper with his cane, top hat and monocle.  It does not occur to my five-year-old mind that peanuts don't wear spats and white gloves, nor do they have legs and arms to hold canes, nor do they look like they are about to tip their hats at you.  It all seems completely normal.  I remember thinking that Mr. Peanut is quite charming.  I wonder if he knows what is happening to all his buddies that used to live in those cans.

Photo by Christian Montone; vintage 1960's peanut can (2009)

I can hear music, faintly.  My father, in his study, preparing lesson plans.  He likes to play Mozart on a portable phonograph while he works.  My younger brothers have both been put to bed and I have my mother to myself.  And in that skillet on the stove where that exquisite smell is emanating from, she is making her spiced nuts.  She does this every Christmas season.  She will package them in the cellophane and tie them with curled red and green ribbons and then share them with friends and family.  She will make sure that we have some for ourselves as well.  They will be kept in a Tupperware container like one of these on the counter top.  Then the nuts will be gone for another year.

The story behind the spiced nut recipe, a recipe I've never seen anywhere else in my perpetual search for spiced and seasoned nuts, is this:  My mother was part of a women's support group when she and my father were in seminary school.  The recipe was passed on by the group's leader along with the nuts.  Where the recipe originated from is not known, but it is an old recipe and it had been part of my mother's Christmas tradition every year.

Try these nuts.  They're easy, fabulously addictive and they make great gifts.

Merry Christmas and thanks for passing on the recipe, Mom!

My Mother's Spiced Christmas Nuts

     You can easily double, triple or quadruple this recipe.  I have also found that you can increase the quantity of nuts from 2 to 3 cups, make the same amount of sugar-spice coating and get great results.

3/4 cup confectioner's sugar
2 Tbs. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
2 Tbs. oil or butter
2 cups salted peanuts (if using dry-roasted unsalted peanuts, add 1 tsp. salt to spice mixture)

1.)  Blend together confectioner's sugar and spices; add salt if using unsalted nuts.
2.)  Put 3 Tbs. spice mixture in a large skillet with oil or butter.
3.)  Add nuts and stir until coated.
4.)  Heat over low heat, stirring constantly, for 8 minutes.
5.)  Cool nuts and toss with remaining spice mixture.
6.)  Store airtight.  Makes about 2 cups.


  1. You've set the scene quite nicely! I totally feel like I am in your childhood kitchen! :) This recipe looks delicious and easy to make; I am also curious about the powdered sugar! Never seen a spiced nut recipe that uses it! Happy Holidays!

    1. Thanks, South Austin Foodie. I didn't talk about the curtains with little red and yellow teapots, but I remember those too...Hope you enjoy all that is in store over the next week!