Archives for category: candy
Photo of ripe red watermelon in steel bowl.

The one that got away — part of the watermelon that rolled off the counter.

On Wednesday I received a small watermelon from my Riverdog Farm CSA. Grown eighty-some miles away in summer heat, the melon was sweet and pink — I know because five minutes after I set it on the counter I heard an odd thunk: it had rolled off the counter and split open when it hit the floor. There would be no saving this watermelon for later. I picked it up, washed it off and tasted it. Good. Then I set it aside for a few days as the temperature took a nosedive and the fog rolled in to stay — who wants to eat watermelon in fifty-degree weather?

Fortunately, I had a plan for some of this watermelon: when I bought my Nesco American Harvest dehydrator the booklet contained this sentence: “Cantaloupe and watermelon slices become candy-like when dried.” Candy-like. Hmm. Then Krista and Jess reported on their dried watermelon chips. I knew I had to try it when watermelon came along again.

I spent an hour in the kitchen this morning, cutting 1/2 inch thick slices of watermelon, removing the seeds and cutting the rind away. The easiest way to do this proved to be to cut a slice and then slice through the melon perpendicular to the rind to produce small batons or wedges and then to cut the rind away. After half an hour of this, I noticed that I was developing a neat pile of watermelon rind.

Now, I am one of those people that, if you give her a slice of watermelon, will eat deep into the rind. Watermelon rind reminds me of cucumber with no bitterness and no seeds. And yet, because Mom doesn’t can, I have never made watermelon rind pickles. I called her into the kitchen and asked, “Back in the day when you ate watermelon pickles, were they sweet or sour?”

“Not sweet enough,” she said.

“Sort of like bread and butter pickles?” I asked.

“Not as good,” she said.

She told me to look in the old Mowequa cookbook, but I headed upstairs to check my saved blogs file. Not too far into the seven hundred recipes I had saved was Natalie’s recipe for watermelon pickle. I have started to make it and will report on the results on Wednesday.

Painting depicts apple pie ingredients: flour, butter, apples, cinnamon, nutmeg.

Gravenstein Apple Pie 8″x8″ gouache and watercolor pencil Sharyn DImmick

Things to make right now: Gravenstein apples are in! Ann and I picked a big bowlful of them from a yard in Berkeley and Mom made our first Gravenstein apple pie of 2012. I cannot say enough good things about this pie so if you are lucky enough to live within range of Gravenstein apples, by all means, get some. Bernie at the Berkeley Farmers’ Market has them right now if you don’t want to forage for them, or if you need more. I also made zucchini-feta pancakes this week. This time I threw a little leftover pesto with the fresh herbs and feta — it’s a delicious variation. As I write this I have another peach and plum crisp in the oven, this time made with white and yellow peaches and little cherry plums from someone’s backyard tree. And two days ago I made this tomato tart, again with lemon cheese, but with brown mustard and shredded tarragon. And of course this is a good time for Deborah’s somewhat famous tomato platter or Greek salad, with tomatoes and cucumbers in the market and peppers beginning to come in.

Photo of watermelon candy, aka dried watermelon

Watermelon candy in the dehydrator.

The watermelon candy is small and sticky — it reminds me of dried tomatoes, only sweeter and pinker. I was catching up on my sleep today after nearly a month of periodic insomnia so I didn’t take the time to do a new painting. Instead I offer you photos of watermelon and watermelon candy.

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painting of English toffee and ingredients as seen by a horse.

Sebastian and the English Toffee. 12″ x 12″ watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick

Last week Susan Darm showed up to show you how to make her delicious caramels. This week she is back with her English Toffee recipe. The basic recipe has only three ingredients — shouldn’t you be making some? Think of how nice it will be standing over a warm, fragrant pot of caramel on these cold days.

Susan says:

I did not get this recipe from a book. It may have been given to me by a neighbor, Mrs. Steel, who was from England. I never wrote it down because the recipe was simple, consisting of only three ingredients. These were cooked together carefully then poured out, cooled and broken into pieces which could be covered or dipped in chocolate and robed in chopped almonds. I made English Toffee at the holidays for years. So far I have not found any commercial toffee that tastes as good.

English Toffee

One pound granulated sugar

One pound butter (I have used salted and un-salted. Salted works better for me).

One cup raw almonds

Prepare a buttered cookie sheet. I use a buttered silicon cooking mat on a cookie sheet but it works just as well without the silicon. In a good quality saucepan about 10 inch diameter, place the sugar and butter. Melt these together stirring continuously until they are completely melted and start to bubble. Add the raw almonds. Continue to cook at a slow boil while stirring constantly never lifting the spoon from the mixture. If you are using a candy thermometer you will do this until it reads 290-300 degrees f (between soft crack and hard crack stage). If not using a thermometer, cook until the candy starts to turn a beautiful toffee color and pulls away from the sides of the pan as you stir. Remove the pan from the heat. Carefully remove the stirrer from the pan. Do not allow any candy on the stirrer to drip back in to the pan, it could taint your candy and ruin the texture. Pour the candy on to the baking sheet or silicon mat. I let it cool just a little then use a silicon spatula to smooth the surface and spread the nuts uniformly. I sometimes score the candy lightly with a knife just before it hardens so I get uniform sized pieces when I break the cooled candy. Once the candy has cooled you can do what you want, break it in to pieces to dip in chocolate, crumble it, or chocolate coat the whole big piece to give as a gift along with a little hammer. Have fun and be creative!

Food Notes (from Sharyn): We pour our candy into buttered Pyrex oblong pans. It works for us.

Painting note: Today’s painting features Susan’s horse, Sebastian, who says, “Western tack, please, but English toffee!”

Susan promises to come back next fall and teach us how to cure olives.

painting shows miniature horse looking through window at caramels.

Scamp and the Christmas Caramels 12″ x 12″ watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

Today The Kale Chronicles presents a holiday confection from Susan Darm: at our house candy and certain cookies are seasonal foods, made only in December.  In November 2011, Susan brought some of her caramels to a writing retreat in New Mexico and we all swooned. Susan lives in Brentwood in eastern Contra Costa County, an area formerly known as the Horn of Plenty. My favorite peach farm, Frog Hollow Farm, is still out there, although much of the fertile land has been paved over for housing. When Susan is not making candy she is an equine enthusiast, physical therapist and aspiring writer. Here’s Susan:.

I have always loved candy. As a child in grade school, I figured out that if I was going to eat as many sweets as I liked, I would have to learn to make them. I started out simply with a snack of bread, butter and white sugar. This was a respectable after school snack in my mother’s eyes, something she herself ate as a child. When I got bored with this snack I began experimenting with sugar, butter and/or syrup boiled in a sauce pan, cooled then either eaten plain or poured over nuts. I got the idea of cooking sugar from my father. He made pecan rolls at Christmas and I loved the gooey topping made of brown sugar, butter and pecans.

By the time I reached high school I had graduated to more complex concoctions. The first real winner, a candy that was good enough to share with others, was English Toffee. After 10 or 15 years of English Toffee, I got burned out on making the same candy over and over. I started searching for new recipes. I experimented heavily with both caramel and fudge. I was better suited to making caramel; it has similar properties to toffee. The recipe I ended up using as a base for my caramels is common and can be found with minor variations anywhere on the internet. Once you get the knack of making basic caramels, there are endless variations as far as using nuts, chocolate, salt for salted caramels, constructing layered candies (like Turtles) or shortening the cooking time and making caramel sauce instead of candy. I have even incorporated marshmallows, walnuts and chocolate in to the caramel with sweet results kind of like a caramel rocky road. It was good for me to make these candies. Over the years I began to eat less myself and enjoyed giving it away more than eating it.

The key to caramel making is attention to these details:

  1. Once you get to the actual cooking stage (after the ingredients have melted together), the spoon must not be removed from the pot and you must stir continuously without scraping the sides of the pot. I use a bamboo paddle and envision the paddle moving the candy in a pattern around the pot so no area is left unstirred.
  2. Manage the temperature of the stove to keep the pot at a slow boil.
  3. When you pour the candy out, do not scrape the pan. You may scrape the pan later and eat the scrapings.
  4. I no longer use a candy thermometer because I am able to eyeball the proper cooking stage. I suggest you start with a candy thermometer then estimate the time it takes to achieve the desired ball stage on your stove and quit the thermometer. I find the thermometer cumbersome and by the time I read the proper temperature my candy is overcooked.
  5. Every stove is different. On my old stove, the caramel took about 18 minutes to cook. On my new stove it is always ready in 12 to 15 minutes. This is why I use my eyes.

Easy Basic Caramels

Prepare a buttered 9 by 9 inch pan. Silicon works the best. You may fill the bottom of the pan with nuts. I use raw walnuts or toasted salted almonds or pecans. I have also used macadamias and Brazil nuts. Any nut tastes great with caramel! The caramels also taste good plain.

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup dark corn syrup

1 cup butter

Put these ingredients in to a 10 inch heavy bottomed sauce pan, melt together and while stirring constantly bring to a slow boil. Turn the heat down and maintain a slow boil uncovered for 4 minutes without stirring. Keep the bamboo spatula in a cup of warm water while the concoction is boiling. After 4 minutes of slow boil, remove the pan from the heat and add:

One can of sweetened condensed milk

Put the pan back on the stove and over low/medium heat boil the concoction while stirring constantly without removing the spoon. If you use a thermometer you will cook it to 238 degrees f. If you use your eyes, the caramel will turn a warm brown caramel color and start to pull away from the sides of the pan. Once they have reached the desired temperature or color, remove the pan from the heat. At this point you may stir in any flavoring you would like. Most people like to add vanilla. I do not. Then pour the caramel in to the 9 by 9 buttered pan. Let the pan cool completely. I refrigerate them overnight. Once you have the basic caramel you can dress it any way you like. I remove the slab of caramel from the pan and cut it into small rectangles. I dip the bottoms of the rectangles in chocolate then wrap them individually in waxed paper (like my grandma used to do). You can also press salt in a decorative pattern on to the top of each piece or mold them in to balls, push nuts around the ball and dip it in chocolate. These caramels are very forgiving. Slightly undercooked they make a soft melt in your mouth caramel. Slightly overcooked they are firmer and must be served at room temperature.

These caramels keep well for several weeks in the refrigerator.

I try to put love in to everything I make. I believe we can taste when food is cooked with love. I also try to use local ingredients as much as possible. I am trying to find healthier candy to make and share. For next year I will work on making nougat with local honey, almonds from our orchard and egg whites from my mother in law’s chickens. This will be a lower fat candy made with ingredients from close to home. Wish me luck and I hope to share my results.

Food Notes: Sharyn here.I grew up making caramels at Christmas with cream, but have never made them with condensed milk (it won’t be long now!). My mother remembers boiling cans of condensed milk as a child to make caramel, so it is a tried and true method.  I also agree with Susan about candy thermometers: I learned to make candy the old-fashioned way by dropping samples into cool water or across plates and looking for textures: soft ball, hard ball, hard crack, etc. Next week, I’ll post Susan’s English toffee recipe for you.