Candy Making 101

I was never allowed in the kitchen when I was growing up. Primarily, my mom did not like us traipsing through and nosing around while she was fixing a meal. And the other reason, I had a few kitchen disasters while growing up.

The one that brings the most laughter, now at least, was my foray into candy making. When I was in high school, you had the option of taking Home Economics as an elective credit. This class wasn’t “just for girls.” Savvy guys took this class because they were surrounded by females and food, two things that are probably most dear to a teenage boy’s heart. I enjoyed this class. Among other things, we learned about nutrition, food safety and how to cook and bake a few things—lessons that are still worthwhile, especially in this age of fast food and microwaves. It was fun to walk into a large room filled with all the necessary equipment to put our lessons into action because I never got to practice at home! Until one Christmas…

During the holidays, Home Ec classes focused on desserts and candy making. If it had lots of sugar, chances are, we made it. Cakes, cookies, lollipops, fudge, hand-pulled taffy… Oh the taffy! How that fascinated me. It took skill and precision to make taffy. The sugar had to be boiled to the “hard-ball/soft-crack” stage—between 260 and 280 degrees. Now I know, for people who have never made candy or messed with boiling sugar, that term might make you chuckle but there is quite a bit of science behind it. If the taffy was undercooked, it was fudge and if it was overcooked, well, then you had a lollipop. When properly cooked, the sugar was poured onto a sheet pan, allowed to cool and then “hand-pulled” until it had the opaque, matte finish of what you find in the candy shops of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. It was then cut into pieces and wrapped in waxed paper.

I have to say, my parents were rather impressed with the samples I brought home from class. I begged my mom to let me make batch over Christmas break. Looking back, I have no idea what in the world possessed her to allow me to boil sugar in her kitchen (which is akin to making liquid fire) when I barely knew how to boil water but whatever the thought process, or lack thereof, I was allowed to make taffy.

One important distinction needs to be made about Home Ec class recipes and regular “home” recipes—the recipes made in class were in quarter amounts of the full recipe. Cakes would have never baked and taffy would have never been pulled had we made a “full batch” recipe. Our real world experience would have been limited to just reading and tasting so we made quarter batches in class and took home instructions for full batch recipes.

Now the day we made taffy in class, in preparation for pouring the cooked sugar into the sheet pan, we placed another pan underneath filled with crushed ice. This allowed the sugar to cool quicker so that it could be pulled. The quarter batch of sugar poured over the iced pan cooled pretty fast and we had to begin pulling almost immediately to avoid it becoming grainy and inedible. I added all this information so you would have the back story as to how I made my critical error of judgment.

So I am at home on the first day of Christmas break. I’ve got my sheet pan buttered and nested into another pan of ice, my full batch of sugar cooking and my mom, just steps away, watching me work my magic. The sugar finally reached the hard-ball/soft-crack stage (I say finally because it takes quite a while for boiling sugar to reach those temperatures) and I poured it into the iced sheet pan. Without further thought and just going on my quarter batch experience in class, I immediately plunged my fingertips into the liquid sugar. I vaguely recall Mom hollering at me when she saw what was happening. 270 degrees registered pretty quickly on my pain meter but not before the damage was done. I spent the next two and a half weeks with blistered fingertips, eating shiny, grainy taffy.

I took away two life lessons from that experience: as much as it pains me now (and more so, then), math matters, especially in cooking. One quarter is not equal to a whole! And there has be to an easier, less painful way to permanently alter your fingerprints!

 

This is a photo of my mom’s kitchen and the scene of my taffy debacle.moms-kitchen

Salt Water Taffy

I found this recipe in my recipe organizer. I don’t know if this is the same recipe we made in Home Ec but if not, it’s very similar. Please pay particular attention to NUMBER 6 in the directions, cut your waxed paper squares ahead of time and pay attention to the cooking stage of the sugar. Undercook it and you will have fudge. Overcook it and it will be impossible to chew.

Here’s a link about my first taffy making experience at home. Candy Making 101

Ingredients

2 cups sugar

1 cup light corn syrup

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 cup water

2 teaspoons butter

A few drops of food coloring

1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon extract, of your choice

Directions

1. Combine sugar, corn syrup, salt and water in a 2 quart pan.

2. Cook over medium high heat, stirring constantly until sugar dissolves. Be careful not to splash the sides with the sugar mixture.

3. Heat mixture, without stirring, until it reaches a hard-ball stage.260*

4. Remove from heat and mix in remaining ingredients.

5. Pour onto a lightly buttered baking sheet. 

6. Cool until just able to handle.

7. Butter hands and gather taffy into a ball and pull.

8. Continue to pull until light in color and hard to pull. This works best if you have someone to help you. 

9. Divide into fourths.

10. Pull each fourth into a 1/2″ thick rope

11. Cut into 1″ pieces using buttered scissors

12. Wrap individually in waxed paper or it will stick together.

Appy-English

My dad was born and raised in the Appalachian Mountains of Breathitt County, Kentucky. He would always say that he was so far back in the mountains that he would barely catch a glimpse of sunlight most days. Seeking better job opportunities, he moved north to the metropolis of Newport, Kentucky. But as the old saying goes, you may be able to take the man out of the mountains but it’s almost impossible to take the mountains out of the man. That’s why I talk the way I do.

Appalachian English is a “thing.” It is recognized as a distinctive American dialect and is studied by linguists and college students alike. Hey, it even got a mention in the Yale Grammatical Diversity Project. Purists recognize distinctive differences in dialect dependent upon the region of Appalachia you inhabited. For instance, in Virginia when referring to either a single person or group, the word “you-ins” is used but in Kentucky, it’s “y’all.” My primary language is Appy-City English—a mix of eastern Kentucky Appalachian with a bit of northern Kentucky/Cincinnati thrown in to keep it interesting.

I know my pronunciation of words can cause confusion. Over the years, I’ve had to repeat myself, often finding synonyms of the words I’m saying in order to be understood. For instance, when we were living in Virginia, our electric was out and I called a friend to see if they were affected as well. I asked, “Do you have power?” except it came out sounding “Do you have par?” After several exchanges of “What?” and me repeating myself, I finally said, “Lights? Electricity?” And then I got, “Oh pow-er… I had no idea what you meant!”

I also have “Aints.” Not as in, I “ain’t” gonna do this or that. My “Aints” are my dad’s sisters or the women married to my uncles—Aint Mag, Aint Polly, Aint Rose, etc… (I have read where this particular pronunciation and also pronouncing the word “cannot” as “caint” is regionally distinctive to eastern Kentucky.) You may get tired, I get “tarred.” I use a match to start a “far” with the “farwood” in my “farplace.” If you get a job, you were “hard.” I like to listen to the “reddio” in my car. And speaking of cars, I get the “ol” changed in my car every 3000 miles. In my defense, I do not “worsh” my hands in the “zink.” That is not to say I don’t “wash” my hands, I do—often and with soap. But for as many words as I slaughter, how I ever got those two words right is beyond me!!

The Double Negative in Appalachian English is not positive but negative as in, “I don’t know no better” which would imply that “I know better” but in Appy-English, I really don’t! And the “A”-Prefixing which is adding “a” to a verb so you would have something like “She’s a-going to the store” or “I’ve been a-meaning to get that ‘ol’ changed in the car” is distinctive as well.

For your edification, I’m including a few more terms. While I may not use them much now, I heard them quite a bit growing up.

Poke—A brown paper bag. Grandma would give us a poke filled with goodies for the car ride home.

Spell—To rest. When my dad would mow, he would ask us to “spell” him so he could take a break.

Ill—Bad tempered. While it might come as a surprise, I’m sure I’ve been a little “ill” at times.

Pop—A carbonated drink. Now I’ve switched to Coke, which is another word for any carbonated drink.

Blinked—Something that’s soured. Is that milk blinked? (Or blinky?)

And so for now, I’ll be a-finishing this piece because I don’t know no more to add!

The Noontime Meal at Grandma’s House

It’s always been a bit confusing to label the “noontime” meal. My family always referred to it as “dinner” (and we called the evening meal “supper”) but depending on where you live, the noon meal is “lunch” and the evening meal is “dinner.” Just for clarity’s sake, whenever I refer to “dinner” I am referencing the noontime meal. Old habits are hard to break…

It always seemed to me that, whenever we were at my grandparents (which, by the way, was in eastern Kentucky, Breathitt County, to be specific), a large part of the day was spent eating. As soon as the breakfast dishes were done, Grandma began to work on dinner. There were many times when all of the family was together (before we–the grandkids–started marrying) that Grandma was cooking for 27 people, three times a day. And the amazing part is that she made it look to easy.

Dinner was a whole new meal. It usually consisted of some type of beans (soup beans, green beans or cooked dried green beans which she called “leather jackets” or “shuck beans”), cornbread, fried chicken, potatoes and whatever else she decided to fix. During the summer months, we also had whatever fresh vegetables that were available from the garden.

I cannot count how often I have seen my Grandma go out to her chicken pen which sat behind the house, grab a chicken, and as quick as anything, wring it’s neck and begin to pluck the feathers off. We ate fresh, free-range chicken before the word “free-range” was in anyone’s vocabulary. Eventually, she bought chicken from the store but even then, Grandma kept a few laying hens for fresh eggs and a few older ones to use as stewing hens for her chicken and dumplings.

Grandma made the absolute best chicken and dumplings. And again, it was without a recipe which is sad because no one can quite replicate what she did. In the same big old metal tub of flour that she made her biscuit dough, she would make her dumpling dough. Grandma would then roll this dough out with a drinking glass (usually one that she had gotten from a box of soap powders years earlier) and pinch the dough off into little pieces, dropping them into the rich broth from the stewing hen. When they were ready, she would carry the big old cast iron dutch oven full of dumplings over to the table. There would be a layer of bright yellow chicken fat on top. The thicker the layer of grease, the better the dumplings would taste. My aunts and uncles often referred to dumplings as “slickers.” No wonder.

One of the best fried chickens I ever ate was at Grandma’s house. I always pestered her to let me gather the fresh eggs. Because of black snakes and roosters, she would usually do it herself but she let me go. As I grabbed the galvanized bucket and was headed to the gate, she hollered out to me, “My girl. Leave that old rooster alone.” In the literary world, this is what as known as “foreshadowing.” There was a huge rock that I had to climb to reach the laying hens. I guess I was so intent on climbing and looking out for black snakes that I failed to hear the clucked warnings behind me. I had gathered a few eggs before I noticed the sounds. As I turned, my heart began pounding. It was the old rooster–he was clucking, prancing around and staring directly at me!

I slid off the rock that I was on, grabbed a much smaller one and threw it at the old bird. That was mistake number two… Mistake one was going into the chicken pen in the first place. He immediately stepped up his pace and started towards me. As I made my way to the gate, the rooster did too. Panicked, I grabbed at the gate and couldn’t open it. At this point, the old guy began to flap his wings. Having been previously “bitten” by a goose, I didn’t want to feel the wrath of this chicken. With no other options available, at least none that occurred to me at that moment, I decided, one way or another, I was getting over that fence.

My mother, who was looking out the window above the kitchen sink, watched the drama unfold. Years later she told me it was an awe-inspiring sight: the bucket thrown up in the air with eggs flying in every direction and me, her 12 year old daughter, vaulting over the fence like a conditioned Olympic athlete with the rooster right at my heels. All I can say is that fear is an amazing motivator. I ran into the house, leaving the frustrated rooster flapping his wings against the fence. Wanting to get away as far as possible from that old bird, I briefly relayed the story to Grandma before I shot out the front door, in search of a far less dangerous adventure.

Later, as we gathered for dinner, there was a huge platter of fried chicken on the table. As I sat down, grabbed a piece and began to eat, my family asked me how it tasted. It was delicious (Grandma’s fried chicken always was) so why would this be any different? Laughing, they told me I was eating the old rooster. With Grandma’s help, I got the ultimate revenge. I was taking a bite of the bird that had earlier wanted to take a bite out of me!!12-2

This is my grandma, Malinda Turner Deaton. Behind her is the chicken pen and to her right, you can see where the hens laid their eggs.

Hot Pepper Mustard/Butter

Ingredients

1 quart prepared yellow mustard

1 quart cider vinegar with an acidity of 5%

4 to 6 cups sugar (I only used 4 cups)

½ to ¾ cups Clear Gel

1 teaspoon salt

36 large banana peppers or 40 medium banana peppers or 50 small banana peppers

DIRECTIONS

  1. Seed and chop peppers. (I use a food processor to chop the peppers tiny).
  2. Add Clear Gel to sugar and mix well. Mix everything together. Put over medium heat, stirring sonstantlyr until desired thickness is reached. DO NOT BOIL!
  3. Ladle into hot, sterilized jars. Cap with hot lid and of course the ring and process in hot water bath for 15 minutes.

This recipe made about 8 to 9 pints.

I canned a batch of this in late October, 2016 and it’s nearly gone. It’s great on sandwiches, to dip pretzels in or mix with cream cheese to spread on crackers. I’m considering raising banana peppers in my garden this year so I can use my own peppers instead of purchasing them at the grocery store.

I do not use flour in anything I can. I only use Clear Gel. It is more shelf stable than flour.hot-pepper-butter1

Breakfast at Grandma’s House

Grandma got up before daylight to cook breakfast. As she prepared the food, she sang. The words always sounded vaguely familiar but I never recognized the melody. I was a nearly a grown woman before I found out why this was. My grandparents belonged to a non-instrumental Church of Christ. They believed that the only instrument necessary for music was the voice. So although Grandma knew the words to “Amazing Grace,” she did not sing the popularized melody but rather the one that had been handed down to her from her family–a tune that was generations old. Now I know that had I listened just a little harder and had a little better imagination, I would have heard the songs of my Highland ancestors through an Appalachian filter.

The breakfasts Grandma cooked were wonderful! Certainly not made up of the foods that, in our health-conscious society, we would eat today. All the foods were of the home: homegrown, home-raised or homemade. A typical breakfast always consisted of fried meat (usually some kind of pork but sometimes chicken–even fish on the rare occasion), biscuits, eggs, fried potatoes, fried apples and peaches. Oh! And coffee! The coffee grounds were dumped into the bottom of her coffee pot, water was added and it was set on the stove to boil for hours. Espresso had nothing on Grandma’s coffee. It was certainly an eye-opener!

What remains the most fascinating food of the meal, to me anyway, was Grandma’s biscuits. Even the canned varieties today are not as uniform and exact as her’s were. Grandma kept a big metal tub underneath her sink filled with flour–it usually held 25 pounds or more. When she made the biscuits, she would pull out this tub, make a little well in the center of the flour, dump all of the ingredients in, mix it together and form her dough. If I attempted to do that, I would probably ruin the whole tub of flour. Not Grandma, she only used what she had intended to and she did it with no measuring cups, no recipe and no waste. I asked her once how she was able to do this and she told me she had been mixing biscuits this way since she was 9 years old. I think she was in her early 70’s when I posed the question.

Grandma would then take the biscuit dough, pinch off a piece, roll it around in her hands to form a ball, pat it out and put it into a pan. In no time, the pan was full of perfectly uniform biscuits. Any leftover dough was flattened out and baked to a dark brown–her version of a hoe cake. The biscuits were great fresh out of the oven and even later in the day, substituting as sandwich bread for a piece of leftover breakfast meat. My dad said that when he was a kid, she would take one of these biscuits, fill it with fried potatoes and pack it for his lunch, along with a pint of milk in a canning jar. He would keep his lunch tin the the creek beside to school to keep the milk cool until lunchtime.

Most of my biscuits memories center around using them as fishing bait. For the longest time, to get to my grandparent’s house, you had to walk across a swinging bridge. When they ended up building a flat bridge to drive over on the opposite side of the creek, we would sit on it and fish for minnows. Grandma would take a piece of thread, tie it to a bent stick pin and then give us kids a biscuit for bait. I don’t ever remember catching anything this way but at least those little fish ate as good as we did!

If you mention Grandma’s breakfasts to my sister, she’ll tell a completely different story than mine. For her, this meal stirs up memories of homemade syrup. To achieve the exact dipping consistency, the syrup had to be mixed with butter. Only then was it ready to be eaten with oven-warm biscuits. Karen says that even today, just thinking about grandma’s syrup will make her mouth water.

No matter how I, my sister or any of my cousins remember a particular meal that Grandma fixed, the one consistent story we will share is that whatever she made, it was cooked with large amounts of love.

I don’t have a recipe for Grandma’s biscuits and I have tried more times than I can count to replicate them but I have had no success. Even my aunts, her daughters, could not make biscuits like her. But I am sharing her recipe for syrup. Grandma’s Syrup

Grandma’s Syrup

2 cups water

2 cups light or dark brown sugar

Maple flavoring, if desired (Grandma never used this)

In a heavy saucepan, combine water and brown sugar. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat. Simmer until mixture reaches the consistency of syrup. Add maple flavoring, if desired, prior to serving.

Note: You can add more brown sugar to thicken the mixture more quickly.

Attached is a story about breakfast at Grandma’s house. Breakfast at Grandma’s House

 

Gardening, January, 2017

Here we are, at the end of January, and I haven’t ordered any garden seed yet. I say “yet” because usually thumbing through seed catalogs and garden planning is what helps to get me through the winter. Well, that and chocolate…

We have what some people call a “truck patch” garden. It’s big enough to provide what we need with some left to share or sell. We give away what we cannot “put up” (can, freeze or dehydrate). We are going into our fourth year of gardening and we have learned some key lessons, namely in space planning and seed amount and type. Now I grew up on a farm where we planted acres of various foods so space planning was really never a concern. Our first year, I wanted to plant gourds. I had some grandiose idea of creating awesome art projects with them after harvest. Big lesson learned that year? Never, ever, never plant gourds in a vegetable garden. I grew up listening to and reading Bible stories but I truly never understood how the gourd grew up so fast around Jonah to provide him shade until I grew some of my own.

In addition to the gourds, we also planted an entire row of yellow summer squash. Other than waiting until after the first frost, I only have specific planting guidelines for potatoes and cabbages. According to my grandmother, cabbages need to be planted by March 17 and potatoes need to be planted on Good Friday. Somehow, inadvertently, we must have planted under the squash sign because that one row produced over 800 harvested squash. To replay a scene from Forrest Gump about Bubba and his shrimp, we dried squash, froze it, had it in various casseroles, stir fries, etc… We also gave it away. It was so bad that our friends stopped answering their phones when we would call.

The second year, we had an abundance of green beans. It was a puzzle to us because no one in our area had any luck with green beans that year. We planted Half Runners and Kentucky Pole Beans and ended up canning around 150 quarts. That doesn’t count the bushels we picked and gave away. That was 2015 and we are still eating on those beans. This was also the year that I planted milling corn because I had the grandiose idea of grinding my own cornmeal. The two varieties I planted were White Nighting and Cherokee White Eagle. I ordered them from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. (Here’s a link to their website where you can order seed or a catalog Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.) It wasn’t a completely foreign concept as my grandpa had a grist mill and always ground his own meal. But here was the rub to growing milling corn–I don’t have a grist mill or access to one. As such, you had better have a friend that owns a mill or a deep pocketbook to purchase a top of the line mill.

Unbeknownst to me at the time of planting, corn is one of the hardest of all kernels to crack and it must be cracked prior to grinding. I read story upon story of people who had ruined Kitchenaids, Cuisinarts and VitaMix machines trying to crack corn. Thankfully, since I don’t have deep pockets, I did have a friend that owned a mill and cracked the kernels for me. (“Denny, cracked corn and I sure did care!” Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) We finished grinding the corn in my mother in law’s VitaMix. Between the grinding and sifting and regrinding, it was a lot of work and it is still somewhat gritty. I re-sift the meal prior to using and put the grits in a bag in the freezer. I will either grind it again or attempt to cook them as grits.

Last year, 2016, was kind of a bust for us, garden-wise. The rabbits ate our pea vines faster than they could grow. It got unseasonably warm early so the cabbage never took off and the potatoes were somewhat stunted. I decided to plant “eating” corn and put in four rows of the Kandy Korn variety, a super sweet yellow corn. About two weeks prior to a full harvest, we had thunderstorms go through our area with high winds that knocked every stalk of that corn to the ground. That is one of the pitfalls of sweet corn–it has a very shallow root system. It was a shame because the sample of corn that we had tasted was delicious. I got what bit I could but we lost probably 90% of the crop. The one thing that did grow for us was tomatoes. This was the first year that we had any luck with them and we don’t have a clue why–they just grew and produced in spite of any effort on our part. I ended up canning about 25 quarts of tomato sauce and still gave a bunch of tomatoes away.

So what are we planting this year? I’ve been thumbing through the seed catalogs and I’m thinking I would like to raise peanuts! If I plant any more sweet corn, I am going to pick a variety that grows roots and weathers storms. Maybe some eggplant and peas that can grow faster than rabbits can eat them. While I’m indoors this winter eagerly anticipating the arrival of spring, gardening daydreams help to pass the time. And so does snacking on chocolate!1a.jpg

This is a harvest photo from our 2014 garden.

(Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with Baker Heirloom Seeds and I am not receiving any compensation from them for the link.)

Presbyterian Potatoes

When I lived in Virginia, a good friend gave me this recipe. She was a Methodist. I have no idea how these mashed potatoes got their name but they are, hands down, the best mashed potatoes I have ever had. They can be prepared the day before and reheated without any loss of flavor or texture.

5 lbs. potatoes, peeled and diced

1 – 8 oz. pkg. of cream cheese

½ to 1 cup milk

1 stick margarine or butter

1 t. onion salt

1 t. salt

1 t. seasoning salt (like Lawry’s)

¼ t. pepper

Cook potatoes until soft.  Drain well.  Mash potatoes with all ingredients and serve while warm.

These can be prepared the day before and refrigerated.  Reheat potatoes in a covered dish in a 350 degree oven until heated through.

We have found that in lieu of the cream cheese and butter, one box of the Boursin cheese works as well.  Our favorite is the garlic but the herbed cheese also works well too.

Leftovers also make terrific potato pancakes!