This Christmas, people in my life are getting simple gifts. I’m making candy for most people. Fiscal Frugality is probably wise in my world — and in most worlds.
Look around, right? The economy’s fucked. I could overspend, but I’d rather use my time and efforts and put ME into my gifts than injecting concern into my life. Makes sense.
It’s probably why I’m having so much more fun this Christmas. I can afford what I’m doing. I’m having to do it from my heart, too, because I want the candy to be awesome, not just some phoned-in treat.
Friday, I got to play Santa Steff as I took my first batch of candy around to people. Tonight, I’ll be making another 11-12 pounds of the convection, with a good chunk of it being used for charitable purposes–my small way of giving back to a valued member of Vancouver’s social media community. I figure elbow grease turns into a donation from someone else. The circle of good.
But this isn’t just any candy.
This is the kind of candy that comes with a story.
Isn’t that the BEST kind?
As a kid, my mom always made us this homemade brown sugar candy. She called it “fudge,” so we did, too. Supposedly it’s “brown sugar pralines,” but there ain’t never been a batch that had pecans in it at my house, man.
She died in 1999, and that’s when I learned that it’s not the big posthumous regrets that weigh down your soul — it’s the little shit. Like childhood recipes.
When I realised her death came and I’d never gotten the recipe for brown sugar candy from her, it broke my heart. No one in the family could find it, either. She’d kept it secret.
But then, 10 years later, a friend of mine, ZoeyJane, helped me “purge” my home. I was made to go through all the old papers, sort all my boxes.
Another friend came over and we were goofing off, and I showed him my big purge-find of the day: My 1983 Girl Guides & Brownies Cookbook.
My friend starting flipping through the pages–thwap-thwap-thwap– “CRANBERRY JELL-O MOLD? This is totally 1983! Oh, hey, here’s yours–Brown sugar pralines.”
I snatched the flimsy recipe book from him, and lo and behold, there it was. Mom’s candy.
My eyes watered and my heart pounded. There was a piece of my childhood, RIGHT THERE. It DIDN’T die with her.
I was elated. Over the damn moon. I planned to make it soon. I’d need a candy thermometer. Duly NOTED.
A couple days later, I’m walking to work. Looking down on the sidewalk in Yaletown, there’s a candy thermometer in its package–$2.49. A fissure crack made it useless trash, but I picked it up and fell deep into thought as I found a bin to toss it in.
Later that day, I bought one myself.
That Friday, I took a deep breath and set about rekindling a part of my childhood. It was time to make some candy.
Immediately after I pour my first batch into trays to cool, the phone rings. It’s my brother. He’s with my dad. They wanna pop by.
I’d lived here 10 years, then. It was the first time ever they just “popped” by.
So, they came over, happy to know the “fudge” awaited. The candy was made of fail. I didn’t hit the right temperatures. It’s not cooking, it’s alchemy–and I had much to learn. My candy that day turned into a taffy-like chewtoy one could spend hours nom-nom-nomming but never melting down.
But it took us all back to a place that spoke of Monopoly nights with candy and a fire in the hearth, pizza delivery, pajamas and goofing off.
When my folks’ marriage started truly failing, the candy stopped making appearances. It became increasingly rare. Mother always made a double batch and put half away, hording it for herself. She had false teeth. (Obviously.)
In the 16 months since I found that recipe, I’ve really made it my own. I never make it plain as Mom did. Now it’s a vehicle for great flavours. I’ve made it with bacon and whiskey–a small circuit of the American deep-South barbecue circuit speaks of it like a barbecue urban legend, thanks to a friend who bragged about my work in competitions down there. But it’s the peanut butter-vanilla one that’s really popular with friends and family.
This Christmas is a new version and is my favourite. I think Mom would have loved it: Browned butter, toasted walnuts, and Butter Ripple Schnapps. It’s toasted and carmelized goodness that’ll make you understand the value of a good dental plan.
There were a few things I could’ve made to gift this year, with much less work, but my brown sugar candy is closer to my heart than any of ’em.
Don’t ask for the recipe. The Next Generation Cameron will carry it on: Nephew knows now what’s involved in making it. One day, Nephew too will be a Candymaking Ninja. But, for now, the alchemy eludes my little grasshopper.
Mother would be pleased. She’d love knowing her candy made Christmas special in two provinces last year, since I sent it to other family too, but she’d be more thrilled to know she played a part in candy-for-kindness and other Christmas goodness this year. She liked it simple-but-generous, life.
My folks went the extra mile to make Christmas memorable when I was little. One day, I grew up and the season became shrouded in the cynicism that makes stories like A Christmas Carol resonate 170 years on.
This year, being frugal, using my time and energy to make old-fashioned candy, is the first time I’ve really felt seasonal “joy” in a good 15-plus years. There’s something about returning to the simplicity of the traditions.
Being single and childless, that’s more easily accomplished than it’d be for others, but what a fantastic choice I made. I’m so glad.
Well, then… girl’s got some candy to make. Today’s most-epic-batch-ever requires a 20″ whisk, 24-quart stockpot, and a 24×18″ bun roll sheet with 1.5″ high walls. And, you know, 90 minutes of whisking.
Pray for me.
Ho, ho, ho.
If you can’t attend the fundraiser here in Vancouver tomorrow and you’d like to do a random act of kindness to support a couple good folks financially-felled by health crises for months in the past year, here’s a great place to drop five bucks and do just that.