Once upon a time...
We had been in Poland a few years when the residents of our building received the announcement that all the gas pipes were going to be changed. This was early in November. If I recall correctly, they turned off our gas the Monday before Thanksgiving, and didn't turn it back on until a few days before Christmas. Our heat was provided in another way, but without gas, we had no hot water and no stove/oven. We purchased a two-burner electric cooker and on this I prepared all meals for our family of five. (At the time, we also had no microwave or crockpot.) I think I made pork chops instead of turkey for Thanksgiving that year.
Unfortunately, we had no means of baking during the prime "baking season" of the year. No cookies. No cakes. No pies. I did have the electric cooker and decided that we could still make Christmas candy. I surfed the internet, gathering recipes that used basic ingredients available in Poland, rather than specialty ingredients such as "almond bark" or "corn syrup" or "chocolate chips."
I remember the first batch of candy vividly. I carefully affixed my candy thermometer to the side of the pan and waited for the boiling candy mixture to reach the correct temperature. I waited a long time. I waited some more. The sugar-mixture scorched and burned in the pan, but the thermometer never reached the correct temperature, and thus I learned that it was broken. I discarded the first batch of candy, dismayed that the candy thermometer was broken, as it had come from the States and I had never seen one here in Poland.
Not to be outwitted by unreliable gadgetry, I consulted the cookbook which contained pictures and explanations about cold-water testing hot candy mixtures. Without going into great detail, let me simply say that I tried, I learned, and ultimately, I conquered. I have never since used a candy thermometer when making candy, nor have I ever scorched a pan. Firm ball stage? Hard crack stage? I've got it covered!
We enjoyed the candy we made that year so much that it became a tradition to make more kinds of candy at Christmas than cookies. Tonight we made a batch of Aunt Bill's Brown Candy. This is just as much work as the recipe says it is, so it's best if you don't plan to make this at the same time you are making other things. It makes a lot of candy, and it is extremely rich. Do not leave out the nuts, although--no one will be surprised--I used walnuts instead of pecans. This candy really needs the nuts to balance the extreme richness.
I'll also be making two (or three) kinds of fudge, cream cheese mints, divinity, and probably hard-tack candy. Also peanut brittle and English toffee. I can't remember if there is anything else I should make, but I'm sure someone will remind me if I forget anything vital!
I think the holiday season has officially begun!
And lest I forget...
Lord, I'm really, really thankful to have a working oven, stove, and hot water this winter!