Wednesday, January 24, 2007

January 26th is National Peanut Brittle Day...

... It also happens to be Barbara McGarrah's birthday. Barbara is the owner of Barb's Gourmet Brittles at the Lake Ella cottages, and evidently her cottage industry chose her even before she knew of the coincidence. On a budget, Barbara bought peanuts to make peanut brittle for extended family and friends one Christmas. She had more leftover peanuts than she knew what to do with, so she made brittle to sell at a craft fair. One thing led to another (see Barb's website) and before she knew it, she was making brittle, then ice-cream, in her own Lake-Ella store.

Incidentally, Barbara was a fashion designer for career-women before this little life-changing event! She's still designing, but now her creations are much sweeter.

Barb's most recent victory is her acquisition of the second half of the cottage that her store occupies, which is now her ice-cream parlor. Until the acquisition, she had her ice-cream and brittles in one small but very cozy room in the cottage. One afternoon I entered the store with my husband and very expectant toddler, and didn't see her ice-cream anywhere. Barb said, "we don't have that here anymore." She looked serious, out of character, and seemed to be holding back the reason for her decision to stop selling her home-made ice-cream. I panicked for a moment -- my sweet child was about to be crushed. He never let us miss a detour for ice-cream during our weekly trip to the Grower's market. I stammered, "Oh, no! Well, I guess we'll just buy some brittle." I've never been good at hiding my disappointment, and just as I was thinking that I might have sounded rude, she beamed a great, warm, radiating smile and said, "because it's in here now!" She stepped back and opened her arm to usher us down a narrow hall, and there was the ice-cream stand and two round tables with red cloth table-cloths, in a room that invited us to stay awhile. I felt how thrilled she was, and she laughed and laughed at my series of reactions. She explained that they had that very afternoon opened the new room to customers, and that they were still in the process of getting their refrigerator and equipment fine-tuned. She said that she had been waiting for three years to have access to the second part of the cottage, which until then had been occupied by Quarter-Moon Imports. Quarter-Moon imports also had another "half cottage" in the row of detached cottages at Lake Ella, and was finally able to move into a single, larger space. This freed up the space for Barb.

I have yet to describe Barb's confections. She has expounded on the traditional peanut brittle to include ingredients like chocolate (different flavors), other kinds of nuts, sun-flower and pumpkin seeds. She uses pure, natural ingredients, and the nuts taste absolutely fresh. I've watched her assistants work, carefully removing every trace of bitter skin from piles of peanuts, and deftly tossing pieces of brittle into a bowl of warm chocolate, dipping a set of tongs first to the right, then left, then right again, to create a zigzag of chocolate across the face of each piece, one at a time. Barb puts her brittles right into her ice-cream, which has a texture unlike any ice-cream I've tried. It is luxurious yet refreshing, and is less sweet than most ice-creams. It strikes me as the perfect ice-cream for Tallahassee's hot summers, and yet it is still irresistible when fingers and noses are pink from the cold wind outside (as ours were on Wednesday). Someday I may gather the courage to ask her to give me a hint at her basic recipe. She is continuously updating her repertoire of flavors, too. Yesterday we had chocolate rum-craisin and white-chocolate cashew ice-creams.

Finally, as if her creations weren't enough to make her shop a destination, Barb's warmth is absolutely infectious. A perfect contrast to her extraordinary ice-cream. If you don't feel like having something sweet, I dare you to buy some brittle as a gift for someone you know and see if it makes it to its destination. You won't be able to resist.

Barb's Brittles is open Wednesday - Saturday 12:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.,
Sunday1:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.

1671 N. Monroe Street
Tallahassee, Fl 32303

Phone: 850-385-9839


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