Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Holiday Sweets

It's nearly the end of 2008 and I fully intended to write here more often. So perhaps a resolution is in order to write here at least once a month!

So for December, it seems appropriate to write about homemade sweets. Growing up, my parents' kitchen was always full of either Mom or Dad cooking.

Mom made candy and cookies every year. Fudge (the 'family recipe' is on the marshmallow creme jar), penuche, divinity, butter cookies from the old cookie press, sugar cookies that she'd let us decorate with colored sugar.

My favorite candy she made was a family recipe she called Dixie Cremes. They have a center of crunchy peanut butter, cornstarch and powdered sugar and a hard maple coating. The coating was a pain in the ass...you had to cook it to a certain temperature, cool it a little, beat it by hand until it was sugary, then put the pan in hot water to melt the coating again so you could dip the peanut butter balls. I haven't made them in years. My copy of the recipe was ruined. I can't read the card anymore. And I don't know that my mom's recipe is in the house anymore. But that's another story.

I started making candy and cookies when I moved out on my own. It made me feel like I was continuing a tradition, gave my holidays away from home a feeling of familiarity. I always made fudge, sometimes I made dixie creams. My own addition to the tradition was butter caramels. I found a recipe in the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook that made amazingly smooth, slightly chewy, buttery caramels. They were my grandma's favorite.

Over the years, the holidays have gotten busier and it's hard to spend the time making lots of candy, especially hand-wrapping five pounds of caramels. So a couple of years ago I decided to shorten the cooking time and make caramel sauce instead. It was a hit with my friends!!
This year, with the popularity of salted caramel, I decided to try something different. I made the caramel sauce like I had before, but when I put it in the jars, I sprinkled a layer of grey salt on top. I'd considered doing it for several years, ever since I had my first glorious Fran's grey salt caramel.

When I gave the first jars to friends last Friday night, just reading the label made them squeal. :o) One of them immediately got a spoon, opened his jar and ate a spoonful. He pronounced it "Jesus in a jar". *g* Needless to say, I was rather proud.

I remember when I was little how excited people got when Mom would give them a wrapped platter of homemade goodies. My Mom and Dad are both gone now, but one of the things I do to honor them now is make homemade goodies for my friends at the holidays. And with the jars of caramel sauce (and Kahlua hot fudge sauce), if they give back the jars when they're empty, they'll most assuredly get more! :o)

So, Mom and Dad, thank you for teaching me the value of sharing something homemade, something made from the heart. I miss you and I love you.