CANDY! My family was not into the cookies for Christmas, we made candy. Both my grandparent's and my family's houses were like candy stores during the Christmas holiday season. In addition to the homemade types below, you could always find a covered glass candy bowl on Grandma's table filled with old-fashioned ribbon candy.
We made so many types of candy over the years that I am sure I have forgotten some of them, but here is what I can remember.
Divinity - Light, fluffy, clouds of sugar meringue that melt in your mouth. You could only make it on days when it was not going to rain and humidity was very low, or it would become a nasty, sticky, rubbery mess. Sometimes we added nuts, but I think the pure Divinity was the best. And Divinity is low in calories! We always made it in a cake pan and cut into squares, but I know that some people make it by dropping from a spoon. (Hmm, wonder if it is safe to make this anymore, with the salmonella problem in eggs? You don't really cook the egg whites, you beat them to high peaks and then add 270 degree sugar syrup. I may need to call the Agriculture Extension Office and check on that.)
Fudge - Thick, rich, smooth chocolate love that engulfed your mouth with each bite. We made in an 8x8 square cake pan, and it was just thick enough to set correctly, yet a small piece would satisfy. I preferred this rich indulgent treat with walnuts. The hardest part about making it was adding the butter to the hot ingredients and then WAITING to beat it all together. I always wanted to beat it right now, but I learned from experience there is a reason why you wait....otherwise you get grainy yucky candy.
Peanut Brittle - If you have never had fresh homemade Peanut Brittle, you have lead a very deprived life. Crunchy, sweet, salty, an amazing combination of flavors and textures. The crunch of the hard brittle, the slight softness of the nuts, the almost too sweet flavor of the candy and then a taste of the salt. Glorious. Amazing. Wonderful.
English Toffee - like the world famous Heath Bars, the hard toffee bar dipped in chocolate and rolled in nuts - but our own three layer version. We would cook the toffee to the hard candy stage and pour it into a buttered cake pan. Let it start to harden, and then add chocolate melted in a double boiler, and then cover it all with a 1/4 inch think coating of chopped nuts. Carefully with a spatula, press the nuts slightly into the chocolate. Put the whole think into the refrigerator (or icebox as it was known in my family) until the chocolate was firm. There was no cutting this candy into perfect little squares. You had to force the tip of a large butcher knife through the chocolate and then tap-tap-tap the handle with a hammer until the thick toffee shattered into pieces.
Caramel Nut Rolls. I have never had this anywhere but at our house. My dad says that they are my Grandma's and Great Grandma's attempt to copy a candy that was once sold by See's Candies. I am not sure about that, but I am sure that once you tried these, you were hooked. Imagine a roll of "dough" about an inch thick and about 8 inches long. The "dough" is made from a fondant (sugar, Karo Syrup, and cream of tarter) mixed with Sugar, Marshmallow cream, butter, milk, and nuts. You refrigerate the logs overnight and then you cook caramel (sugar, syrup, 1/2 pound of butter, heavy cream and vanilla) until it reaches the hard ball stage, and then dip the rolls in the caramel and roll in chopped nuts. Slice the rolls into 1/4 inch rounds and serve. I know, I know, hard to explain, but wow! The results are amazing. Leave me a comment if you want the recipe, but be warned it takes 2-3 days to make.
Mexican Orange Candy (Orange Fudge) - Another one that I have never had anywhere else. I found that this is an "I really love this candy" or an "Ugh, that is dreadful candy." My friends were pretty evenly divided on this one. You either like or spit it out. My family all loved it, as I remember, except for my brother, James, but he was never really fond of any candy but fudge! The Mexican Orange Candy is a cross between a caramel and a fudge made with sugar, scalded milk, butter, nuts and grated orange peel. It has the consistency of fudge, the chew of caramel, and the fresh bright explosion of fresh orange. Yummy.
Royal Brittle - My mom would make this one to take to parties, and always got raves. I don't remember us making it for ourselves that much, probably because it makes over 3 pounds of mix!! A mixture of candied fruits, pecans, almonds, filberts, walnuts is spread in an oiled 15x10 jellyroll pan. Poured over is a mixture of sugar, corn syrup, butter, and vanilla that is cooked to the hard crack stage (300 degrees) and immediately poured over the fruit and nuts. Cool and break into bite size pieces.
Candied Orange Peel - Once upon a time you used every single part of your food. Now a days we often throw away fruit peels, but there was a time when they were used for candy. And mighty fine candy it is too. You scrape the white membrane from the outside of the peel, and cover with water and bring to a boil. Discard the water and repeat two more times. Now add 1 cup of water and 3 cups of sugar to the boiled peels in a heavy saucepan and boil gently for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Most of the syrup mixture should be absorbed by the peels. Remove peels with a fork and let syrup drain back into the pan. Roll peels in sugar (or in a mixture of crystallized ginger and sugar) and let dry on a rack. A perfect example of waste not want not.
There you have it. My Cook/Keesey Family "Other" Tradition - Candy in all shapes, sizes, flavors and textures. Made with love and shared with all.
Hope you have enjoyed this peak at my family's tradition.
Written for the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories - Other Traditions - December 11, 2010