Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Has the Cream Candy Creamed?

It’s true what they say about insecure people and downtrodden cultures. Because we feel inferior, we have a tendency to brag. When news comes from Appalachia onto the national scene, it usually involves grandmothers peddling oxycontin out of their pocketbooks or finding a philandering husband in a deep freeze with his face on backwards.

Good Lord, I think. Do they have to show that?

As an antidote, I play a game called Name That Kentuckian.

Abraham Lincoln? Diane Sawyer? George Clooney? Johnny Depp? They’re from Kentucky!!! Jeremy Sumpter, the quarterback J.D. McCoy on Friday Night Lights was raised in my hometown.

Want a Kentucky writer? Wendell Berry, bell hooks, Robert Penn Warren, Barbara Kingsolver, Frank X. Walker, just for starters.

Shall I put on some music? How about Loretta Lynn, Joan Osborne, The Judds, Patty Loveless or Bill Munroe? Kentucky born, of course.

We invent stuff, too: the mobile phone, the steamboat, gas masks, cheeseburgers, and Preparation H & BOURBON...there when you really need them.

But this piece is about a little-known and practically secret Kentucky creation: the divine confection known as cream candy.

As with many inventions, I imagine cream candy as an accident, born from creative necessity. It’s Christmas Eve, say. We live in a log cabin and there are four of us kids. Our family has spent all our money on shoes. What’s in the cupboard? Hmmm... butter, sugar, cream, oh just pour it all in the iron pot.

Let’s stir the concoction over the woodstove... but then the stove catches fire and we flee out into the snow, carrying the sweet boiling liquid. Momma trips and the contents of the pot fly into the frigid air landing on Granddad’s marble tombstone. We kids grab it up and begin a tug of war, as we pull and pull, the compound magically turns into taffy. Fascinated, we pull hand over hand until Dad hollers that the fire is out. “It was just the creosote burning inside the stove pipe!”

Inside, we notice a second transformation of our creation. It has a lighter, lustrous color. The candy rope seems to glow. Momma tells us to set it down on the kitchen table. She whips out the scissors and cuts the rope into small pieces. We pop bits of the amazing confection into our mouths and let it melt there, staggering around the warm kitchen, our ecstatic faces lifted heavenward.

The next morning, we dash into the kitchen where dad is frying bacon and discover that the candy has done its final magic trick. It has changed from chewy and dense, to a soft, artfully-textured morsel.

“It creamed!” the youngest child says and we all eat a piece and stagger mmmmmming around the kitchen once more.

This scenario is fantasy. To my knowledge, the sparse history of the sweet does not include a description of the how the first batch came about. We do know that Ruth Hunt, the founder of Hunt’s Candy Company began making this candy for her friends and, as the demand rose, began her own company in 1921. Legend has it that Ruth Hunt expanded the original recipe in an effort to cheer up her daughter by dipping slabs of it into dark chocolate. She named the candy bar, Blue Monday.

I currently divide my life between my beloved farm in Mt. Sterling and my artistic community in Greater Boston, a settlement known as Somerville, or affectionately, Slummerville, and where Marshmallow Fluff was invented.

The cultural gap between the towns is interplanetary. When I arrived back in the Boston area after the holidays, I parked my car a half a mile from my house, and draggle-tailed my feline children, over a Salvador DalĂ­-like melted, refrozen moonscape of grey, pocked snowdrifts. I was about to topple into well of depression.

But then...

My best friend, who’d been staying in my apartment since surviving a house fire, my traveling companion and myself, all of us born at some point along that stretch of Kentucky U.S. 60 where cream candy is still made, opened my red tin, packed full by a friend.

The three of us gathered in my Somerville kitchen, partook of the sweetness that unfurled into our senses with an almost genetic pleasure. We staggered around the kitchen our chins lifted, eyes closed.

But back for a moment, to my opening statement about culture, insecurity and pride of place. I took a friend of mine from the Northeast to Kentucky and she became enamored of our cream pies. My friend asked the chef for the recipe. She came out from the kitchen, with a smile and declined to share.

“Momma would have a fit,” she said, wiping her hands on her apron. My friend produced a $20 and asked if the crust made from hot water or cold. The woman shook her head again, smiling. “Sorry,” she said. She no doubt could have used that twenty and my friend would have loved that recipe. Boston has a cream pie, but it isn’t a pie at all. It’s a cake with layers of custard. But the message was clear: Don’t come swaggering down here and think you can skim off our cream. Our recipes are not for sale.

But I’m going to contribute to the bridging of the cultural divide and I’m going to do it right now. Yes.

I am going to give you the recipe for cream candy.

Hunt’s Candy company is thriving in Mt. Sterling, Kentucky and my friends Jimmy and Debby Robinson still make tinful after tinful in the winter. It is my honor to share the recipe they use.

Uncle Hurshel's Kentucky Cream Candy Recipe

Best to Choose a Low Humidity, Cold Day in Kentucky
(Best if it is below 32 degrees with less than 50% humidity and as close to Kentucky as you can get!)
~ Chill a large piece of marble slab by placing outdoors
~ Using a medium to large cooking pot, mix 3 Cups of sugar with one cup of water
~ Cook on Medium Heat stirring with a wooden spoon
~ When mixture threads from the spoon (Forms a thread when spoon is tilted), Pour in one cup heavy whipping cream (1/2 Pint) laced with a pinch of baking soda
~ Do Not Stir
~ Using a candy thermometer, Remove mixture from heat when temperature is at 260 degrees
~ Pour directly onto the cold marble slab (after spreading a small amount of butter over the slab)
~ Work the mixture with hands until cool enough to pick up
~ Continue to "Pull" the candy hand over hand until no longer sticky and the mixture has turned white
~ Immediately pull it out into a roll and cut with scissors into bite-size pieces
~ Wait for about an hour and place in tin containers
~ Candy should "cream" overnight

Special note to the uninitiated:

This candy is meant to be nibbled and savored. Please do not place a whole piece, or even two, as I have seen done, or your stagger will be more along the lines of insulin shock than culinary joy. If the recipe overwhelms, then just come on over to my house.

By CD Collins & Billy Marshmallow

What Your Valentine Really Wants

I’m beginning to see a pattern: couples in trouble because one partner wants a verbal intimacy that the other is not interested, capable of, or ... able to fathom.

Last night, I spoke with a close male friend, who yakked on like an interesting, articulate magpie about the nuances of his troubled relationship with his girlfriend.
Her complaint: he doesn’t talk to her.
His complaint: she goes nuts on him.

“I don’t even remember what I said,” he tells me over hot chocolate, “but I guess it was the wrong thing.”
Get your head on, boy! The least you can do is pay attention.

In frustration, his girlfriend sometimes:
Kicks him out of the apartment, and seethes for days.
Yells at him in an escalating fashion.

To be fair, he really doesn’t know what she’s talking about, or he forgets, especially in those moments of crises. In relating the situation to me, he seemed surprised by her reaction:
“Suddenly, she started yelling at me.”
He was not able to draw a line from his behavior to her response. He did not see the connection. His concept of the big picture is all a-fuzz.
Listening further, he revealed the root of the problem,
as common as it is profound: he is afraid.....

....that she will leave him.
Honey Jock! This is the very definition of neurosis:
to create through your actions the very thing you fear.

I don’t think communication walls are just a man thing.
This impasse is not sexed.
I know men who complain about women for the same reason.

A few days ago, I was speaking to a female friend. Let’s call her Charlotte Bronte. Well, Charlotte was tormented with this issue concerning her wife. Yes, her wife. Relax. This is Massachusetts. Her wife would not or could not provide the deeply intimate, imaginative communication that Charlotte craved. Her wife wanted to talk about laundry.

You know, metaphorical laundry without the metaphors. The practical stuff, not the soul stuff. The couple had tried therapy for years and Charlotte told me that she had ended up sounding like an unhinged looney tunes. No one, not even the therapist, could get a grip of what Charlotte was freaking out about.
And poor Charlotte Bronte was starving...

Charlotte and I agreed that this deep communication, talking not just talking, is, to us, like manna, the miraculous food supplied to the Israelites in the wilderness.

I brought this subject up with another couple over dinner.
“Does he listen and remember what you say?” I asked.
“Remember?” She laughed heartily. “He doesn’t even hear it.”
“Be fair,” her husband warned.
“Okay,” she replied, “He listens....when I’m talking about sex.”

So, this Valentine’s Day, why not surprise your Valentine with what that girl or guy really wants. And your Valentine will be grateful, and eager to please. I’m telling ya.

Dr. John Gottman speaks of the four horseman of the apocalypse when predicting marriage failure and success.
The four horsemen that predict failure are as follows:
Criticism, Defensiveness, Stonewalling and Contempt.

If any of these horse are affecting your relationship, could a lack of manna could be involved?
If so,
show courage, open your ears, open your mouth, open your heart,
and see what little bit of Heaven may follow.

CD Collins