GANDER, NL – It was one of those rural Newfoundland traditions that – likely through more disposable incomes and an increase in grocery store product selection – fell by the wayside.
The homemade molasses candy was once a Christmas fixture in the outport Great Northern Peninsula communities where my grandparents and parents are from.
And in Christmases to follow at family get-togethers, it was an item that came up on more than one occasion.
How the candies would be curled into pinwheels, and how one person, during the stretching of the candy – a pulled-taffy-like process – stretched the candy too far, causing it to break off and hit the person next to them in the face – are fantastic memories certainly worth reliving given the chance.
But I’ve since come to learn it wasn’t as popular as one may have thought.
Mentioning the candy of the past at a bowling league Christmas party a few days ago in Gander, the mixture of people brought into the conversation – old and young alike – had never heard tell of it.
This solidified my decision to take on this project – it was time to bring back a Christmas tradition.
Having spent several years searching for someone who still makes traditional molasses candy for a story but coming up empty, I decided to take matters into my own hands.
Quite surprisingly, a quick Google search turned up several recipes for molasses candies and – huzzah! – there were even a couple of Newfoundland recipes.
However, other than a few tried-and-true items, I’m about as far removed from being a baker as one can be.
I once thought it would be a good idea to stir together cocoa and icing sugar with a hand mixer when making chocolate frosting.
After the mushroom cloud-like dust settled, and some awful dirty looks, I was very rarely left in the kitchen by myself.
The Beacon’s Food Dude columnist I am not.
But with a plan in place, thanks to the full recipe that can be found at http://newfoundland.ws/, I set about making the candy.
First up, add three tablespoons of butter to a fair-size cooking pot. Melt the butter and use it to grease the sides of the pan.
Trust me – make sure to grease it entirely, not just halfway up the side, as it boils up.
Add two cups of molasses and two-thirds of a cup of white sugar.
Stir until the sugar is well dissolved – so far, so good.
The directions require you to bring it to a boil, stirring slowly all the while.
So, stir I did.
And stir, and stir, and stir some more.
Out of fear of burning on the molasses, the burner temperature was low. After about 30 minutes of stirring, there wasn’t so much as a boiling bubble to be found.
Action was required. Feeling brave, I turned up the heat.
The mixture began to bubble and rise, doubling, near tripling the poured contents, but I kept stirring.
To test whether the candy was done, it was recommended to drop a dab into cold water. If it was brittle upon hitting the water, it was done.
Excitedly, I dropped in a dab of the candy – and it sunk to the bottom in its liquid form.
More heat, I figured – so the burner was turned up even further.
It boiled away until finally, a dab held firm in the cold water.
It was more pliable than brittle.
“It’s done!” I shouted to a very surprised girlfriend who had long lost interest in the project and shifted her attention to Christmas cards.
With a greased dish on standby, I poured in the contents to cool.
Great! More waiting.
Growing impatient, cooling options came to mind – putting it in the freezer, tossing it outside – but I decided against it out of fear the glass dish would shatter, and the effort would have been in vain.
But eventually the candy began to firm, and because the anticipation was killing me, I greased up a pair of gloves and set to work.
With the soft, squishy candy in my hands, I began to pull hand over hand – as you would bring in a hand-lined cod – working and reworking.
But the amount of heat left in the candy caused it to run and sag.
As it cooled, it started to become workable. I cut off pieces and began working the candy into pinwheels, but the heat left in it just caused it to melt together into a blob.
The sphere shapes I had rolled looked like hockey pucks – but I had done it.
I don’t like molasses candy.
It was a great bit of fun taking on the project, reliving an experience from back in the day.
Molasses on toutons is wonderful, but the taste by itself was a little too much for me.
Adam Randell is still not allowed to be in the kitchen by himself.