Wednesday, December 24, 2014

sugar buzz

How very strange not to be racing around so close to Christmas.  It’s been many years since I’ve been so caught up with things before Christmas.  Perhaps it’s been since the time before Sarah was born that I’ve had so much spare time so close to Christmas.  Children take up a tremendous amount of time and energy, but that is how it is and I have no regrets about spending too much time on my kids.  In fact, my regrets are all about not appreciating them more when they were little and spending more time with them than I did.

I do still have things to do…a few small gifts to wrap, prepare some cards with cash to give the mail-lady (who is not a good worker) and the man who delivers our morning paper, mail some Christmas cards, and make food to take to Someone’s parents’ house for the big Someone’s-family-dinner on Christmas day.  Oh…and I suppose that means I need to fit in a trip to the grocery store.  The cards will arrive after the holiday, but better late than never, right?

I might just bring the marble slab up from the basement and try to make a batch or two of cream candy.  It’s a very big deal around here.  Most people know what it is, but it’s hard to come by because few people make it anymore.  There is a Kentucky candy maker that makes and markets it commercially, but it’s very expensive (about $12 for a very small container).

My grandmother used it make it every winter.  She made tons of it to give away as Christmas gifts (ok, admittedly that’s a bit of exaggeration).  She usually made it over the course of several weeks, making a batch or two every day while we were gone to school.  It’s hard work because you have to pull it for a very long time, and cutting it is no easy chore.  Hers was the best though, always very striped and she used dye to make it pretty colors of pink, green, yellow.  She also made chocolate and sometimes flavored some to be almond or coconut.  A tin of Mom’s cream candy was a gift everyone was happy to receive.  She was my grandmother, but my brothers and I called her Mom because we lived with her since we were toddlers/babies.    

During World War II, my grandfather was off in the Navy and my grandmother and her son (my dad) lived with her sisters.  One sister, Louise, was not married then and had no kids.  The other sister, Ruth, was a widow with three young children.  My dad and his cousin were the same age and became like brothers, he said.  All three women had jobs (two in shoe factories and one in a grocery store), but their schedules were such that there was always somebody home to babysit the kids.  Money was very scarce because women were paid significantly lower wages than men.  The ladies pooled their sugar ration coupons and bought sugar to make cream candy.  They took orders from people all over town who bought it for Christmas gifts.  For large orders, their customers had to give them sugar coupons because they couldn’t buy enough sugar to fill the order without extra coupons.

They made candy on cold, clear days on their back porch.  Low humidity was necessary for the candle to cream.  They kept their marble slabs outside because the colder the slab, the better.  The candy is super hot when it’s taken off the stove, then poured out onto a cold, buttered slab.  Just as soon as it’s cool enough to touch, you rake it together into a rope, pick it up, and start pulling it.  And you pull until the cows come home…or until it’s no longer shiny and it becomes too stiff to pull.  Then you lay it down, grab scissors, and cut it as quickly as possible.  The candy looks like little striped pillows.  When it dries out, it creams, and the stripes become less noticeable.

Yes, I have made the stuff a dozen times or so since my grandmother became unable to make it.  It’s hard work.  I usually end up with very sore hands after making a batch.  I get blisters from pulling the hot candy and from cutting it.  My grandmother did not like me to be in the kitchen with her when she was herself.  When she got older and dementia started setting in, she became kinder, and even invited me to come help her.  She made double batches using two slabs, and together we pulled the candy.  Invariably, my rope would become a mess of hot, slippery strings.  She would watch me struggle, then switch with me.  She could take my mess and make it into a perfect rope, while I sometimes took her perfect rope and lost control of it.  There’s definitely an art to making it look pretty and presentable.   

So when the batch just fails for whatever reason, it’s not all lost (well, usually).  Sometimes it just stays chewy like taffy.  Sometimes it creams suddenly before you can cut it.  Then you have ugly crumbly pieces, but it still tastes good.  If you cook it too long, you end up with hard candy.  It all tastes good; it’s just not what you hoped to end up with.

After my grandmother had full-blown-no-doubt-about-it Alzheimer's, I brought her a sample of cream candy I'd made.  She didn't say anything, but took a piece out of the tin and eyeballed it closely.  She frowned and studied it, turning it over to view it from all angles, then stuffed it down in the chair cushion.  I didn't take offense; she did that with food all the time after her mind was gone.

Second from left - my grandmother.  Far right, Ruth.  Center, Louise.  My grandmother and Louise both had Alzheimers before death.   

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