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Monday, December 23, 2013

Merry Christmas, or Why the Candy Doesn't Work the First Time

I love sugar.  I know that it's more correct these days for those of us writing in the sustainable, "clean food" space to turn up our noses at processed sugars, but I can't help it.  I love the stuff.  Attempts to control the craving limits my intake, but they never truly eliminate the desire.

I get the craving honestly.  Papa FC&G also has what Mr. FC&G calls a "power pancreas," and we both will go to incredible lengths to find the finest examples of dessert.  And every year at Christmas while I was growing up, this turned into the desire to make homemade fudge.

Now, I'm not talking about marshmallow-based fudge or any of the so-called "foolproof" recipes, I mean real, boil the sugar and pray it sets up fudge.  And every year we'd blow it.  The pancreas may be willing, but the ability falls short.

Each year, even though the house was full of cookies, it seemed like the days off of school and work would spur either Papa FC&G or I to say, "let's make fudge!"  Mama FC&G would try to pitch in, but while she has much greater cooking skills, she's a salty snack person and does not have the intrinsic love of sugar.  Nonetheless, the three of us would gather in the kitchen and try to get cooked fudge to set up.

"Is that a soft ball?" we'd ask.  It was a valid question, since none of us had ever succeeded in getting fudge to the actual soft ball stage.  We'd drop blob after blob of fudge into a cup of cold water, occasionally making the water colder, occasionally trying to nudge the blob with a spoon to get it to ball up.  But it just never happened.  Somehow, even a candy thermometer didn't help.

Eventually, we'd declare it "close enough" (never a great idea in candy-making) and pour it into the fudge dish.  The dish was a square glass plate with Ulysses S. Grant embossed at the bottom, and poor old U.S. Grant was routinely buttered and made to sit through the insult of having hot fudge poured on his face.

Of course, the fudge didn't set.  Oh, we left it on the counter, we put it in the fridge, we left it sit overnight, but to no avail.  So finally, the justifications started.

"We could eat that with a spoon."
"Yep, it will taste just fine."
And finally Papa FC&G would deliver the coup:  "That's ice cream topping!"

And so, every year, we'd give up on cutting the fudge and go at it with a spoon.  It tasted just fine, thank you very much.

I thought about this yesterday when making maple sugar candy.  It took me two tries to turn maple syrup into solid candy, which shouldn't have been hard.  But I'm missing the gene that makes me able to turn liquid sugar into solid, and I struggled for an hour until it set up.

I still wound up eating some of it with a spoon.  But at least I didn't pour it all over a long-suffering U.S. President before I did so.  And I looked forward with pleasure to seeing my family this Christmas.

Merry Christmas to all my readers, and may your holidays be extra-sweet, whether you can hit the soft ball stage or not!
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