I admit it-I’m a peanut lover. I like peanut butter, peanut brittle and peanut bars. I like them in the shell, shucked and salted. I like peanuts that are candied, chocolate-coated and even just plain. So you can imagine my curiosity when I met some new friends last weekend who told me, “We ride for peanuts!”
Come to find out, these bikers were participating in the eighth annual Peanut Run, an event that raises money for some other very special peanut lovers-the veterans who come and stay at Camp American Legion, which is located just outside of Lake Tomahawk. However, it’s not the veterans who consume the goobers; rather, it’s the little friends they meet while staying at the camp.
I got to see those friends first-hand a couple of years ago when I did a story there. It was a beautiful July day, and after a long and thorough guided tour of the place, I sat down in a chair that was one in a long line along “Chipmunk Crossing.”
Three World War II vets were seated a few chairs down, and unobserved, I listened to them converse about their experiences during the war-that is, until a little chipmunk popped out of a bank of trees between a couple of cottages. Unabashedly, it hopped over to the veterans and scampered up on an empty chair next to the group. One of the vets gently held out a peanut, and the tiny critter grabbed it with gusto. It sat on the arm of the chair, perched on its hind legs and, unafraid, ate its treat while the men watched with rapt enchantment.
Like the vets, I was also enamored and observed this scenario over and over again. The expressions on the faces of these elder warriors was beyond priceless, and I could tell this simple pleasure was one they would remember long after their stay at Camp American Legion was over.
This camp is a beautiful place, located on the banks of Big Carr Lake. Vets come from all over Wisconsin to fish, swim, go pontooning, do crafts or just sit quietly and let nature heal their weary souls. Part of that healing comes from the little chipmunks that find proffered peanuts hard to resist from a friendly hand. And there’s no doubt that the vets find theses perky and lively critters very entertaining.
While this activity is a popular one at the camp, a few years ago it became clear that the cost to buy the peanuts was becoming prohibitive. So some employees of the Harley-Davidson factory in Tomahawk, many of whom are vets themselves, got together and decided to create a motorcycle ride that would raise money to pay for the peanuts. Even though last Saturday’s weather included intermittent rain showers, close to 80 peanut fundraisers participated. “We raise enough money to pay for 500 pounds of peanuts for the vets that come and visit Camp American Legion,” said Bill Pribel of Tomahawk, who was riding with his wife, Debbie. “It’s a lot of fun for us and we know all the vets really get a kick out of making friends with the chipmunks when they visit the camp.”
The ride included stops at Smiley’s in Lake Tomahawk, Birch Lake Bar and Resort in Harshaw, R R Gators, Silverado Bar, Lincoln County Cycles, all in Tomahawk, and even the camp itself. Since its start eight years ago, the participants ride to different businesses every year and the event is always held on the first weekend in June, which usually ensures good weather for a motorcycle outing. But the rain of last weekend did not put a damper on the participants, who know how much the vets at the camp, not to mention the chipmunks, appreciate their efforts.
This week I’ve included a peanut recipe that I make often. The trick is to watch it closely. Continuous stirring is a must, but the finished product is delicious. Friends and family love these crunchy treats and I get requests for them often.
So you see, I’m not the only one who has a fondness for the lowly goober. These nuts can be inspiring not only in tasty recipes, but also for hearty motorcyclists who brave the elements to raise funds so those who fought for our freedom can experience the simple pleasure of getting to know one of the cutest creatures in the Northwoods. And I know for a fact the chipmunks aren’t complaining, either.
- 2 cups raw peanuts
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1/3 cup water
- 1/8 tsp. kosher or sea salt
- 1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. In a large, heavy skillet, combine the water, sugar and peanuts over medium heat. Stir the peanuts frequently while the liquid becomes syrupy. After about 10 minutes, the peanuts should look grainy. Continue to stir the peanuts until they turn a deep amber color, then add vanilla and cinnamon and keep stirring until all the ingredients are mixed thoroughly. Spread the peanuts in a thin layer on the baking sheet. Allow to cool and then break into smaller pieces.