By Patsy Kirksey Ross
Birdie Kirksey was a sweet-natured farm wife and a wonderful mother to her four daughters. She worked hard on the forty-acre farm, working side by side in the field with her husband, Johnie, and her daughters. The two older girls were eleven years older than the latter two. It was like having two families, Birdie always said. The two older girls grew up and went off to college, leaving the younger two, Pat and Gayle, working beside their Mamma.
Birdie didn’t encourage the girls to cook much in the kitchen, but she did teach them how to make peanut fudge that melted in their mouths. First of all, they had to shell the peanuts that had been picked off the peanut vine and dried. After the peanuts were shelled, they placed them in a pan and roasted them in the oven. They had to be stirred often or they would burn. Several times, Pat or Gayle dipped a hot peanut out of the pan with a tablespoon and bit into it, careful not to burn their tongue as they nibbled it and tested it for doneness. A certain ‘crunch’ told them that the peanuts were ready. Then, the peanuts were cooled for a few minutes and then the girls rolled them between their hands, which separated the husks from the peanut and split most of the peanuts in half. Then, the girls carried the pan of peanuts outside onto the kitchen steps and blew puffs of their breath onto the peanuts, which caused the husks to float up and away, leaving only the cleaned peanuts, ready for the fudge. (Mamma didn’t like for the girls to blow the husks out onto the kitchen floor.)
When the peanuts were ready, Birdie proceeded to make the fudge. She measured the granulated sugar and cocoa into the iron skillet and stirred it until the lumps had disappeared. Next, the milk was added and she cooked and stirred the fudge while it bubbled, continuously. When it had cooked a while, Birdie showed the girls how to test for ‘the soft-ball-stage’. Taking a small bowl of cold water, she dropped a dab of the fudge into the cold water. If the fudge spread out in a splatter, it wasn’t done. When it formed a soft ‘ball’ of fudge in the bottom of the bowl, it was done. Taking the skillet off the hot burner, she added the roasted peanuts and began beating the fudge with a large spoon. She dropped a large chunk of butter and a spoonful of vanilla into the fudge and kept stirring. Finally, when the fudge no longer looked ‘glossy’, she poured it onto a buttered platter and smoothed it with the spoon.
Waiting for it to cool seemed to take forever. When it was cool enough to cut, they used a sharp knife to cut it into squares. With the fudge still slightly warm, both girls and their Mamma bit into the scrumptious fudge, licking their fingers to get the last taste of goodness.
Mamma was making memories with her girls that would last forever. But it didn’t end here. Early the next morning, as soon as the girls woke, they snuck into the kitchen to get pieces of peanut fudge and hurried back to bed to eat it under the covers. Never had fudge tasted so good, as it tasted under those covers on a cool morning, before breakfast. It never ruined their appetite, either. The young, country girls always had room for their Mamma’s delicious, hot buttered biscuits, bacon, eggs and gravy before going to the cotton field to work all day. Chopping cotton or pulling a sack full of cotton around all day, burned up all the calories the girls had consumed. That worry never crossed their mind. They looked forward to the next batch of peanut fudge that they could make with their mother.