Reviving a Tradition

My grandfather loves his sweets. One of the best things about staying with my grandparents for an evening when I was in elementary school (ok, and later, too) was that I always knew there would be dessert after dinner. Dessert was a rare treat at home, but Grandma always had something, even if it was only a bowl of fruit or a scoop of ice cream.

I can’t quite remember a time before the candy. I think Grandpa started making it after their house was finished (or what passed for finished – to this day, I don’t think my grandparents think their house is finished), but I’m not sure. The caramels, gooey and sweet and stick-to-your-teeth and melt-in-your-mouth, would arrive about Christmastime, in a shiny red tin. It didn’t matter how many were in there; I never got as many as I wanted.

Over time, the caramel-making tradition turned into a full-blown candy-making extravaganza. Candy cooled in the front bathroom. Ingredients, molds, specialty tools, packing options would fill the kitchen for the whole of December; I have no idea how Grandma ever made dinner that month. I loved dropping in – with a “legitimate” reason, of course, although everyone probably knew I had Ulterior Motives – because there was always something that needed sampling. Grandpa kept up with the caramels, and added English toffee, peanut brittle, candied ginger, brandied apricots, chocolate covered cherries, truffles, nougat, and probably things I don’t remember. Red gift bags joined the Christmas tin; it wasn’t Christmas without either one.

The December candy making slowed down eventually, probably before I went to college. While I was at Westmont, my grandparents would occasionally sent a non-Christmas box of caramels, and I bet there are a few former dorm-mates who remember those boxes. Gradually, though, even the caramel-making stopped. Grandpa is, after all, 90 years old.

I missed the Christmas “Grandpa candy”, but there always seemed to be a reason I couldn’t be the one to keep the tradition going. I didn’t have a marble slab or a copper double boiler. I didn’t even have a candy thermometer. Candy-making was magical and mysterious, and it needed Special Tools, or at least a Kitchen the size of Rhode Island.

Interested parties can thank Elise Marley for being the nudge that sent me off for a totally ordinary double boiler and a candy thermometer. This year, I brought back the Christmas caramels. And the English toffee. And a little peanut brittle. I’m simply thrilled to be able to share the eating of them with Caitlyn, and I’m hopeful that maybe I’ll be able to talk her into helping someday. It’s such a little thing, this candy tradition, and I can’t quite express how happy I am to have it back.

It’ll be a long time before I match Grandpa’s Candy Making Heroics – he made 80 lbs one year, at least – that’s a bit less than two Caitlyns worth of candy! – but I made up gift bags for the family. Mom nearly melted when she tried the toffee. And Grandpa? My caramels were the first food he asked for when he came out of surgery this week. I think he approves.

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