Saturday, December 31, 2005

honey candy

My uncle tells me that only a "blue blood" can make honey candy the right way. The blue blood he is referring to is my grandmother's blood, the Johnson blood, hearty pioneer-stock blood. And the part of the candy-making process that requires the blue blood is the pulling, not the cooking of the candy mixture (anyone can do that, he says, as evidenced by the fact that he always makes his wife do that part).

Honey candy is a simple mixture of honey, sugar, and cream boiled to the soft crack stage (about 290 degrees) and then pulled like taffy. It is not, however, much like taffy. It becomes quite hard and brittle, but as you eat it the texture softens into a sticky, sometimes dangerous (my mom just lost a crown) mass. The texture and the sharply sweet taste of the candy make it strangely addicting.

This Christmas I decided that I needed to learn how to make honey candy, since none of my siblings or cousins ever make it. Only one uncle and one aunt are keeping the tradition going. I made my uncle make it at our family party so that I could watch and learn and then I tried it on my own for the first time this week. It didn't turn out perfectly, but I'm pretty proud of my efforts (especially since I've never made any kind of candy before).

When my dad and his siblings were growing up, honey candy was a cure for colds and such--always a winter treat. Whenever anyone got a little sniffle, my grandmother made honey candy. She kept the long, unbroken rope of candy in the house's breezeway and they'd hammer off bits as desired. Little bits of the candy would fly onto the floor (imagine already brittle candy in a cold room); one of my aunts talks about how'd they'd always get little shards of the candy stuck to their feet.

Now, the family candy making is a bit more ordered. The long rope is scored when still soft. Then it is broken up into one inch pieces and wrapped tidily in wax paper. This makes less mess, but it also alters the texture of the candy. If you make honey candy just right, it sort of looks like a honey comb, full of air pockets. But scoring it pushes out much of this air, condensing everything into a solid mass.

If you want to try honey candy (don't blame me if it doesn't work out--I warned you about the blood requirement), here's the recipe:

Mix together 1 cup honey, 2 cups sugar, and one cup cream (there is some disagreement in the family about whether to use half and half or cream; from what I can tell, cream creates harder candy). Boil over med/med high heat until mixture reaches 290 degrees (takes about 20-30 minutes). Pour mixture onto a buttered, rimmed baking sheet. Let cool until you can handle it (about 10 minutes). Gather into a ball and pull until the mixture is light in color and you can't really pull it anymore. Stretch into a long rope and place on wax paper. Score and break into one-inch pieces.

I've also seen recipes that use 2 cups honey and 1 cup sugar. I've thought about trying that version, but I don't want to offend the ancestors.


Blogger Sarah said...

Sounds like fun! I can't quite picture what it tastes like, though. Does it keep long enough to bring a few pieces for us to Tara's wedding in June?

My pioneer candy story: When reading "Little House in the Big Woods" as a child, I was fascinated by how they made maple sugar candy by heating up the syrup and pouring it in different shapes on a snowbank. (That's how I remember it, at least, but I don't have the book anymore to check.) I always wanted to try it--but living in coastal North Carolina rendered it impossible. But you've inspired me: it does snow here in Colorado! Maple sugar candy, here I come!

6:18 PM  
Blogger lis said...

It tastes like honey, but intensififed, with a milky undertone. I don't think it will keep until June--you'd probably break your teeth--but maybe I'll make some more.

I remember that bit from Little House! I always wanted to try that. You let me know how it works. The only snow we have right now is way up in the mountains--which is just fine by me.

6:53 AM  

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