Candy’s Capacity to Connect – Food Traditions (Part 2 of 2)

October 31, 2010 § 16 Comments

Much to my disappointment, my husband and I don’t get trick-or-treaters at our house. It’s perched atop a steep hill; you have to lean into the incline and be in pretty good shape to reach the peak without huffing and puffing. Not exactly an easy feat for a five-year-old in a costume carrying a heavy bucket of candy.

But we went for a walk today, on Halloween, and we saw our fill of trick-or-treaters with their parents, siblings, friends, cousins. Luke Skywalkers and elephants and witches zigzagged from door to door, excited and hopped up on sugar, collecting even more candy in their pumpkin-shaped pails. It was fun to observe these kids keeping a tradition alive, having a blast with their families and friends, and to see the adults’ inner children — and their own creative costumes — emerge.

In this age of rising obesity and diabetes rates, much of the discussion around candy and refined sugar is about how awful it is. And I agree that too much of anything isn’t good for you. But most things in moderation are fine. And with the holiday season now in full swing, there’s nothing like biting into a delectable confection — whether it’s a Milky Way or home-made toffee — to conjure up memories of traditions that you’ve shared with family or friends.

One of our family traditions: my mother-in-law, Anne Lynn, creates 350 pounds of Christmas candy every year.

There are many awesome things about this tradition, even beyond that 350 number. For example:

The 30 or so varieties — including butter brickle (hard toffee coated in chocolate and walnuts), peanut butter cups, pretzel cups (crushed pretzels in white chocolate), chocolate-covered cherries, chocolate-dipped pretzels, butterscotch-coconut marshmallows and Christmas-tree-shaped peppermint patties. Anne Lynn has a core set of recipes that she makes every year, and she experiments with a few new ones based on flavor combinations she encounters in chocolate shops while traveling.

Making pretzel cups

The sheer volume of production that’s somehow executed in six weeks in your average home kitchen, with a four-burner stove and a normal amount of counter space. But once candy time comes, the kitchen and dining room are given over completely to confection creating, and as my mother-in-law says, “You’ll be really lucky if you get to eat anything but chocolate.” She’s not kidding. It’s a good thing they have a grill out back.

The straightforward system Anne Lynn uses to determine who she’s going to give the candy to. Every year, she gets out her yellow legal pad with last year’s list. Anyone who was particularly helpful, or kind, to her or her family gets added — even if it’s the woman at the department store she met only once, but who went out of her way to assist. Anyone who didn’t write a thank-you note gets crossed off — even if it’s a long-time friend. Simple, efficient and based on the Golden Rule.

But perhaps the most awesome thing is seeing how many connections and fond memories have been formed over the years because of the candy. Thirty years ago, Anne Lynn’s elderly next-door neighbors invited her into their kitchen to teach her how they made their Christmas candy. She made half a pound that year. Anne Lynn carried on their tradition, keeping their varieties — and now that they’ve passed away, in some small way, them — alive.

When Anne Lynn expanded from half a pound a year to ten, her mother would come over, and they’d crank out the ten pounds in a single day. Now, her brother and sister-in-law, kids, nephew, niece, their significant others and friends travel from as close as a few miles away to as far as thousands of miles away to help out and learn in the candy kitchen.

The master chef teaching her nephew to make peanut clusters

Convening at the candy kitchen is a chance for family and friends to re-connect to Anne Lynn and to each other, and in some cases, to form new bonds.

Teamwork: sprinkling walnuts from the bowl onto butter brickle

Friends of ours who’ve never met Anne Lynn but are smart enough to write thank-you notes receive the candy for Christmas, and when they finally meet Anne Lynn, there’s an immediate spark. When we wanted a family tradition integrated into our wedding, Anne Lynn was gracious enough to make a few trays of candy, and our guests still talk about how much they enjoyed the sweets.

Anne Lynn’s chocolates at our wedding

As the holidays approach and many of you prepare to drive or fly to visit relatives or dear friends, consider this:

Is there a food tradition you remember fondly? Your dad’s deep-fried turkey, your grandma’s mushroom stuffing, your aunt’s pumpkin bread with a cream cheese swirl, your friend’s cardamom cookies?

Could you ask that person to teach you to make it when you see them? Could you make the time to reconnect with a tradition and with a loved one, carrying an old custom, a new memory and a stronger bond into the future?


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§ 16 Responses to Candy’s Capacity to Connect – Food Traditions (Part 2 of 2)

  • mai truong says:

    Oh, Stephanie, what a wonderful post! I am a bit behind in reading it, but I love it. I adore the holidays and anything holiday related, in large part b/c of all the wonderful memories and traditions. One of the things we did every year since we were kids in Germany was baking these particular Christmas cookies. My mom was never much of a cook, and especially not a baker, so we always only made one kind, a butter shortbread. Mind you, it was and remains a favorite of mine. We would have two bowls of simple icing (powdered sugar, water and lemon juice) and color them red and green. Then we’d go nuts with the decorating, pack them up and share them with our neighbors. Now that I’m in charge of my own kitchen, I make a few different varieties of cookies, but I always include these shortbreads and they are always especially special to make b/c of the nostalgia they evoke.

  • Sally White says:

    You grabbed a heart string on this one! Lovely job Stephanie.

  • [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Stephanie Morimoto, Stephanie Morimoto. Stephanie Morimoto said: Happy Halloween! Candy's capacity to connect: http://ow.ly/32im3 [...]

  • Paul says:

    I love the holiday spirit and what a great holiday story this post is. A heartwarming read; makes me excited for the upcoming holidays!

  • Amy says:

    This makes me even MORE excited for Christmas! Making the chocolate covered cherries would have to be my favorite confection to make. I am glad you are learning a lot from Anne Lynn in the candy making department, I know I need to go back for a few more lessons. :) Love always!

  • Leslie Garner says:

    This sure brings up a fond memory, Stephanie. My Grandmother passed 14 years ago this December, and my last memory of her is that Thanksgiving. It just so happened that she made (and taught me to make) my favorite holiday dish of hers. The tradition is still alive today. Thanks for this and for all of these thoughtful posts. I’m enjoying your sabbatical, too! :-)

  • Kelly says:

    Aw, this is a GREAT post! Love the pix…. The Simpsons still gather for Christmas (have since relocated to Tim’s house in State College) and roast a turkey one of the first days together. That way there’s plenty turkey sandwiches! Then, Christmas Day dinner, we usually have bacon wrapped filet minon (grilled outside in the cold makes them taste SO much better) with yummy veggies of some sort (usually the classic green bean casserole), bread, and some wine. YUM! Then, we dig into (and sometimes fight over) Bunky’s yummy candy or Nana’s sugar cookies that Mom has made….that last snowpeak is MINE! LOL

  • mary vascellaro says:

    What a wonderful read to get one into the holiday spirit! I miss the days of baking Christmas cookies (candy seems beyond my capabilities) to give to my children’s teachers. Maybe it’s time to start it up again and give them to people who have been kind to my family. Love the idea. Thanks for sharing this tradition.

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