Story, Value, and Becoming More Real
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Candy Dish Christmas

December 6, 2023

Annie Nardone

One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep…[1]

I pulled my mom’s keepsake recipe collection from the shelf, craving a step back in time to when she would spend several days preparing for Christmas entertaining. After years of searching through metal recipe boxes, this book held the gems in the crown of holiday treats — two yellowed clippings from our old hometown newspaper. Anise candy, clear and sparkling red, and golden peanut brittle were within my grasp!

There was a comforting rhythm to the holiday season of my childhood. Soon after Thanksgiving, we would sort through the recipes and find the cookies and candies that were iron-clad traditions, and add in two or three more, just for fun. Mom participated in several cookie exchanges, so we would bake dozens of cookies, then box them in Rubbermaid containers and keep them in the unheated upstairs of our home to await the parties.

Dad would be in charge of buttery spritz cookies, twelve dozen if I remember correctly. He was the only person who had the hand strength to extrude 144 tree-shaped cookies through the old, copper cookie press. I applied the tiny, silver candy beads to the top of each one. Dad also had a stellar reputation for his fudge, made with marshmallow cream, so he would create two batches. The fudge was reserved for close friends and the family table.

He revealed that the secret to good candy that didn’t “sugar” was to use a wooden spoon, a rule I still follow to this day.

When I was a little older, my Christmas cooking assignment was to make the candy: chocolate-coated toffee, date balls rolled in coconut, divinity, and the two recipes I’ve included below. Peanut brittle and anise candy were essential to our holiday table. Candy making feels a bit like a science experiment when compared to other cooking. One essential tool for the recipes is a candy thermometer. No other thermometer will work or give you accurate measures. You can check the candy by using an old-fashioned method like the thread test (drizzling a fine stream of melted sugar into cold water), but precision is key to crisp brittle.

A few helpful tips for your candy-making endeavor.

  1. Melt ingredients in a heavy pot or it may burn.
  2. Use a wooden spoon to stir the ingredients.
  3. Have your cookie sheets ready because when the sugar is cooking, the temperature will suddenly increase. Keep the candy thermometer in the sugar mixture at all times.
  4. Take care to avoid drips. Boiling sugar is HOT.
  5. If you are unfamiliar with anise, the flavor is similar to licorice and a holiday favorite in many cultures. 
  6. Place several pieces on pretty plates or bowls, and store the rest in airtight containers.

Old Fashioned Peanut Brittle

2 c. sugar

1 c. light corn syrup 

1 c. water

2 c. raw Spanish peanuts

1/4 tsp. salt

1 tsp. butter

1/4 tsp. baking soda

Combine sugar corn syrup, and water in heavy skillet. Cook slowly and stir with a wooden spoon until sugar dissolves to soft-ball stage (238ºF) on candy thermometer.

Stir in peanuts and salt to mixture, then continuously stir and cook to hard-crack stage (290ºF).

Remove from heat.

Add butter and baking soda, then stir to blend. Mixture will bubble. Pour onto greased cookie sheet and spread to desired thickness. Keep a metal spatula moving to loosen mixture so that it doesn’t stick. When firm, but still warm, turn over. Break in pieces when cold. Store in a sealed container.

Anise Candy

5 c. sugar

1 c. white corn syrup

3/4 c. water

1 tsp. cream of tartar

2 tsp anise flavoring

2 tsp red food coloring

Boil sugar, corn syrup, water, and cream of tartar to hard crack stage (300ºF).

Remove from heat and add anise oil and food coloring.

Pour onto a lightly oiled 10 x 15 cookie sheet.

Cool and score into bite-size squares, then break apart.

Finally, I cannot resist recommending a couple of my favorite Christmas stories to you! Everyone in our family receives a book in their stocking on Christmas day. Here are a few suggestions.

The quote at the beginning of this essay is taken from A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas, illustrated by Edward Ardizzone. This humorous picture book is a retelling of a long-ago Christmas when Thomas was a young boy. The lyrical prose is distinctly Welsh and a joy to read aloud!

If you like older tales, The George MacDonald Christmas Collection, stories selected by David Jack, is the perfect addition to your Christmas collection. MacDonald’s influence on Tolkien and C.S. Lewis is immeasurable and this sweet collection will bless your holiday with meaning.

For the littlest readers, Saint Nicholas the Giftgiver, retold and illustrated by Ned Bustard will bring delight! This is the true story about the life of Saint Nicholas, the kindly bishop who was one of the greatest gift givers in history. The linocut art is simply charming and brightly colored.

Revisit O’Henry’s classic story of love and sacrifice in The Gift of the Magi. The theme of this timeless piece of American literature inspired many films, but reading the original is good food for the weary soul.

Every year, I look forward to reading A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote. I remember watching the movie when I was very young and feeling captivated by the relationships of the characters. The book is based on Capote’s boyhood in 1930s Alabama. This sweet narration illustrates the odd but enduring friendship between two innocent souls — one old and one young — and their shared memories and traditions during Christmas.

May the Lord deeply bless your Christmas season and fill it with hope. “Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men of good will.”[2] 

[1] A Child’s Christmas in Wales, Dylan Thomas.

[2] Luke 2:14, DRA.

The featured image is courtesy of Diliara Garifullina via Unsplash. We are grateful for her generosity.


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