Christmas and candy.
Candy and Christmas.
For good or ill, Christmas and candy will forever be associated in my mind.
When I was small, my grandmother made her homemade caramels only at Christmastime. We kids all loved those caramels and were more than happy to help with the chore of wrapping each one in a small square of waxed paper. We knew that sampling and tasting and snitching would be part of the game.
By the time I was in graduate school and then working my first job, I was making the Christmas caramels. I had my grandmother’s recipe and a lot of sentiment, and no candy-making experience.
Because the recipe said to add the butter “bit by bit” and the milk “drop by drop,” I did just that. Because I was afraid of burning the mix or letting it go too long and get too hard, I cooked the syrup VERY slowly and believed I had to stir constantly.
For three hours or more.
I would sit on a kitchen stool, next to the stove, and stir. I would try to avoid splatters of hot caramel falling on my skin—there’s no worse burn in the world! I would attempt to read while I stirred but was so tense about something going wrong that mostly I just obsessed.
Then, about 7 years ago, I decided I wanted to dip those caramels in chocolate—doesn’t that sound so good? I bought a book about candy making, found that tempering chocolate isn’t so hard and that dipping the caramels got easier with practice. And they were so good!
Well! Then I wanted to make all kinds of other candies and I started experimenting and having fun. When I retired, I decided that I needed to find an outlet for all the candy I was making—we couldn’t eat all of it, for heaven’s sake—so I began to sell candy on Etsy.
When I did that, Christmastime became, fully and intensely, candy season! I would sell odds and ends of candy from October through April but from mid-November until a week before Christmas, all I did was make candy.
I was buying a dozen huge 11-pounds bars of chocolate at a time. I had caramel making down to a near-science and had gotten a lot more sanguine about the process. I figured out I could double the batch and make about 400 caramels at a time, and it sure didn’t take three hours any more!
I made candy, I cut candy. I dipped candy pieces in chocolate. I chopped nuts and candy canes and dried fruits. I put all those little candies in little candy cups, put the candy cups in boxes, and put the boxes in bigger shipping boxes. I made address labels and return address labels and then begged my husband to drive to the post office.
So I could stay home and make more candy.
Sometimes, a good thing can go too far.
It was a lot of fun to make candy and I found it very gratifying that people loved it, this endeavor that all started with my grandmother’s caramels. Her caramels were my most popular items and I felt that validated her worth and honored her memory.
But for 5 years, Christmas was pretty much entirely about making candy.
We would fit in buying a wreath and getting those Santas out, to line up along the mantel, but I had no more time to think about our Christmas because I needed to make candy. Christmas was tense.
I’ve kept a journal for years and when I go back and read my entries from the last few Christmases, it’s apparent that mostly I just wanted the season to be over. Because I was tired and stressed and sick to death of chocolate, I wanted Christmas behind me.
Things are so different this year!
I made a decision that I was ready to limit the kinds of candy I make and stop doing holiday boutiques and stop promoting the Etsy shop. I have been offering candy on Etsy, in a minimal way, getting sales, but it’s all much mellower than it had been.
One of the things I no longer offer to customers, because of the time involved in making them, is my grandmother’s caramels. I haven’t made caramels this Christmas for the first time in probably 35 years.
That makes me a little sad but the year off will do me good. Already, I am enjoying this season more than I have in years because I have simply had the time to do things other than churn out more candy.
By next year, my intention is to be out of the candy-making business altogether. Then I will be able to make candy for fun again, to make the kinds that I like to make and that my family and friends like best.
Next year at Christmas, you will find me making caramels simply for the nostalgic pleasure of reliving happy moments from my childhood and honoring my grandmother’s memory.
And Christmas can be Christmas again.