Candy is dandy
KINGSLEY – Christmas is Barbara Crabb’s time to shine.
Though she said she has cooked plenty of meat and potatoes in her day, the holiday season gives her a chance to use her kitchen for handmade creations of another kind.
She is known locally for her homemade Christmas candy.
“It’s nice to give somebody a plate of candy just because you appreciate them,” said Crabb.
Crabb and her daughter, Alicia Shellenberger of Des Moines, get together over a weekend in December to start in on massproduction. Shellenberger said she’s acquired her mother’s thoughts on giving people plates of hand-made candies.
“I like homemade gifts better than boughten gifts,” she said.
This is the third year the two have come together to get the job done, though Shellenberger watched her mother do it all the while she was growing up.
“A few years ago I decided I’d better learn how to do this,” she said. “I really thought about it after my grandparents passed away-I wanted more than just the recipes. I wanted to actually learn how to do this, so I thought I better come home and help with it.”
Crabb started making mounds of holiday candies in 1991, getting together with her sister from Yankton, South Dakota.
“It was something to do and gave us a reason to get together,” she said. “We both like different things, and it’s nice because that way we both try different things. It’s nice to do it together because we can do the more difficult recipes together.”
Starting that year, Crabb entered recipes in a journal and wrote down what she made, the recipes for them, to whom she gave the candies and more. She still has the journal today, and has added to it every year, including revisions she’s made to recipes and entering new ones. It will be a keepsake for her family someday.
“I don’t work with my sister anymore on this, but I work with my daughter,” Crabb said, adding that she did it on her own for many years.
Shellenberger-at the advice of her mother – began a similar journal when she started in three years ago. She is careful to write down everything. One entry underneath one of the recipes in her journal says, “Be patient.”
“I have to be patient-making fudge drives me crazy because there is so much waiting for it to get to the softball stage,” she said with a laugh.
Knowing things like the “softball stage” takes time, and Crabb said she relies heavily on the use of her grandmother’s candy thermometer.
“I’ve tried getting a new one, and it’s not as accurate as the one my grandmother had,” she said. “It must be 60 years old or more by now.”
Some of her favorite candy creations include salted nut rolls – which are also some of the most time-consuming candies she makes because there are so many steps, and she said she ends up with so much candy on her hands during the process.
She also makes peanut butter cups, which Shellenberger said are her favorite candies her mother makes; and almond bark cookies, which Crabb said are the easiest candies she makes.
Crabb said she learned how to cook from her mother, and she grew up on casseroles. Her husband, Lowell, grew up on basic meat-and-potato meals.
“Trying to convert him to casseroles took forever,” she said with a laugh. “Casseroles are still not his favorite.”
Crabb said she made a lot of pork chops, hamburger and basic meat-and-potato meals.
“I always liked it when Mom made ham and potatoes,” said Shellenberger.
Crabb said she’s learned over the years to use fresh ingredients when cooking.
“I’ve used things in recipes before that might be close to the expiration date, and it doesn’t taste the same,” she said. “I’ve also learned to read the recipe at least a couple of times before I make it.”
Lowell and Barbara Crabb have been married for 43 years and have three children-a son (Aaron and wife Darcy) and family in Spencer, a son (Tim) and his wife Sarah in the United Kingdom, and Shellenberger and her husband, Anthony. Lowell and Barbara Crabb grow corn and soybeans near Kingsley, and rent out their hog buildings.
Shellenberger said learning to make these hand-made candies with her mother is something she can carry with her the rest of her life, and will offer her a lot of memories.
“After I lost my grandparents in the last five years it made me realize how much family means to me,” she said. “I’ve started a family now and I want to continue the traditions I grew up with.”
Peanut butter cups
1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
8 ounces bark coating (2 ounces = 1 square)
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
Blend first three ingredients. Chill. Roll into 24 balls (1/2 teaspoon size). Place in 1 1/2-inch cups. Melt bark coating and remaining peanut butter together.
Fill cups with mixture.
1 1/2 pounds white almond bark
1 cup chocolate chips (Crabb uses 3/4 cup milk chocolate chips plus 1/4 cup semi-sweet chips)
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
4 drops green food coloring
3 tablespoons whipping cream or Half and Half (Crabb uses canned milk.)
Step 1: Line bottom and sides of 12-by-8-inch glass dish with waxed paper.
Step 2: Mix 2/3 bark and chips at 60 percent for 3 minutes.
Step 3: Spread half on bottom of pan and refrigerate for 20 minutes (until set).
Step 4: Melt remaining bark on high until soft. Stir in extract and coloring (mixture becomes stiff); mix in cream until spreading consistency.
Spread over hard chocolate. Refrigerate until set.
Step 5: Spread remaining chocolate on top of mint layer. Let set.
Step 6: Remove from pan and cut.
(NOTE: Mints need to be room temperature to cut.)
Superior chocolate fudge
4 cups sugar
1 14-ounce can evaporated milk (Crabb uses 12 ounces.)
1 cup margarine
1 12-ounce package chocolate chips (Crabb uses 3/4 cup milk chocolate chips plus 1/4 cup semi-sweet chips.)
1 7-ounce jar marshmallow creme
1 teaspoon vanilla
Combine sugar, milk and margarine. Cook over low heat, stirring often, cooking to 236 degrees – softball stage. (Burns easily so watch while stirring.)
Remove from heat; add chocolate chips, marshmallow creme and vanilla. Beat until well-blended.
Pour into buttered 9-by-13-inch pan. Mark for cutting before it gets too cool.
(NOTE: Crabb said when she’s made it, the fudge stayed soft and cut fairly well four hours after it was made.)
1/2 teaspoon plus 2 cups butter (no substitutes), divided
2 cups sugar
1 cup slivered almonds
1 cup milk chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup vanilla chips or white chips
1 1/2 teaspoons shortening
Butter a 15-by-10-by-1-inch baking pan with 1/2 teaspoon butter.
In heavy saucepan over medium-low heat, bring sugar and remaining butter to a boil, stirring constantly. Cover and cook for 2 to 3 minutes.
Uncover and add almonds. Cook and stir (stir so it won’t burn) with a clean spoon until a candy thermometer reads 300 degrees (hard crack stage) and mixture is golden brown.
Pour into prepared pan. (Do not scrape sides of saucepan.) Surface will be buttery. Cool for 1 to 2 minutes.
Sprinkle with milk chocolate chips. Let stand for 1 to 2 minutes, then spread chocolate over the top.
Sprinkle with walnuts; press down gently with the back of a spoon. Chill for 10 minutes.
In microwave or heavy saucepan, melt semi-sweet chips; stir until smooth. Drizzle over walnuts. Refrigerate for 10 minutes.
Melt vanilla chips and shortening; stir until smooth. Drizzle over walnuts.
Cover and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours. Break into pieces. Makes about 2 1/2 pounds of candy.
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