Bubbling pots of corn syrup roiled on the multi-burner stovetop inside Smith Valley Baptist Church under watchful eyes.
Down the line, volunteers were constantly stirring concoctions of the corn syrup, butter, Spanish peanuts, vanilla and more, keenly watching the temperature to ensure the batches were the proper temperature.
At the right moment, shouts of “Hot pot!” rang out around the church’s fellowship hall, as the gooey base of peanut brittle was ready to be poured into pans and stretched to glass-like thinness.
“Making peanut brittle is an art form. The peanut brittle we turn out has a very thin, delicate texture that won’t break your teeth,” said Vicki Hollanders, a church member and one of the volunteers helping with the effort.
Making peanut brittle has been a tradition at Smith Valley Baptist Church for nearly 40 years, though the exact timing of the annual fundraiser is unclear. Volunteers – both members of the church and those who enjoy helping with the project – come together every November to make batch after batch of the sweet treat.
Sales of the peanut brittle help fund the church’s mission work, particularly supporting the Salvation Army, Johnson County Senior Services and St. Thomas Clinic.
“We love doing it, because we have a good fellowship with the people who do it. It’s people other than just people who attend our church, that we associate with,” said church member and volunteer Sally Ward. “They want to be part of the giving.”
Smith Valley Baptist Church, located in White River Township, has been making peanut brittle as a fundraiser since sometime in the early to mid-1980s, though some claim that it came together in the late ’70s, Hollanders said.
Current members aren’t exactly sure how the idea to make peanut brittle came about.
“We do not know that. We’ve tried to go back and find out, but we don’t know,” Ward said. “The story that I get is that there was a need in the church, and someone suggested to make peanut brittle.”
A member at the time provided a recipe to create the buttery, peanuty carmelized sugar concoction.
From the start, the peanut brittle fundraiser was aimed at supporting Smith Valley Baptist’s mission work. The church supported programs and missions across the globe, as well as national and local efforts, Ward said.
“It’s always been a mission project,” she said. “But as time went on, we said we really need it in our own area. So we picked three missions in Johnson County to give to.”
The peanut brittle now supports Johnson County Senior Services, which provides food, transportation and a myriad of other services to seniors throughout the area; the St. Thomas Clinic, a nonprofit providing free health services for those in need, and the Salvation Army’s food pantry, which a number of church members were involved with.
“Particularly the food pantry, that was really close to our hearts. That was something as a church we wanted to support,” Ward said.
At the time it started, the church had a small fellowship hall and kitchen with a big six-burner stove. Members packed together to make as much peanut brittle as they could.
In 1996, the church was damaged by straight-line winds that blew off the structure’s roof. Rebuilding the church, members chose to add a basement fellowship hall with a larger kitchen, which has become the command center for the peanut brittle operation.
Organizers were able to make more peanut brittle, and now, it’s common to cook up to 1,000 pounds of the treat each year, Hollanders said.
After so many years, baking is down to a science. Batches move from stove to stove in an assembly line, with each volunteer tasked with carefully watching the pots until they’re done. Church members determined along the way that raw Spanish peanuts work best, so each year they secure bulk quantities of the nuts before starting baking.
To add an extra blessing to each batch, the volunteers measure out vanilla in the small plastic cups normally used for communion on Sundays, Hollanders said.
“That’s the secret,” she said, laughing. “With some people, it’s a pinch of this or a dash of that. So our measurement is in a communion cup.”
But what really separates their recipe from other peanut brittles is, when it is still piping hot, the batches are pulled and spread out to a thin consistency before it dries.
“The stretching is an important part. You have to stretch it thin,” Hollanders said. “It’s not chewy; it won’t stick in your teeth.”
Smith Valley Baptist has been selling peanut brittle at church bazaars and from their own church every holiday season, and it has cultivated a following. People come back year after year, and often ask if it can be shipped to other parts of the state or country in large quantities. For years, they helped support a marching band fundraiser in Missouri, Ward said.
Ward even sent some to family members when they were stationed in Afghanistan.
“It seems to hit the spot,” she said.
This year, the church will be selling at the Bargersville Santa Train and Christmas Market on Dec. 2. They’ve also planned a pair of drive-through days to sell the peanut brittle. On Nov. 19 and Dec. 17, from 9 to 11 am, people can drive up to the church and get their 1/2-pound or 1-pound bags.
The peanut brittle fundraiser is hard at work, with volunteers meeting multiple times throughout October and November to get ready. But all of the work is with it.
“I love the legacy of it, that it’s been going so long,” Hollanders said.
AT A GLANCE
Smith Valley Baptist Church Peanut Brittle Sale
que: An annual fundraiser to support local missions for the White River Township church.
when: The church will be hosting a drive-through sales of peanut brittle from 9-11 am on Nov. 19 and Dec. 17.
where: 4682 W. Smith Valley Road, Greenwood
Prices: $11 for a 1-pound bag, $6 for a half-pound bag
pre-order: Can be made by calling 317-881-6888 to be picked up at the drive-through events