The candy job was too large and important to be left to Dorothy and Walter alone. Production began on the first Sunday of Advent and continued through most of December. Necromantic metalware--iron cauldrons and racks, heavy aluminum nut-processing devices--came out of deep closets. Great seasonal dunes of sugar and towers of tins appeared. Several cubic feet of unsweetened butter was melted down with milk and sugar (for chocolateless fudge) or with sugar alone (for Dorothy's famous Christmas toffee) or was smeared by Walter onto the reserve squadron of pans and shallow casseroles that his mother, over the years, had bought at rummage sales. There was lengthy discussion of "hard balls" and "soft balls" and "cracking." Gene, wearing an apron, stirred the cauldrons like a Viking oarsman, doing his best to keep cigarette ash out of them. He had three ancient candy thermometers whose metal casings were shaped like fraternity paddles and whose nature it was to show no increase in temperature for several hours and then, all at once and all together, to register temperatures at which fudge burned and toffee hardened like epoxy. He and Dorothy were never more a team than when working against the clock to get the nuts mixed in and the candy poured. And later the brutal job of cutting too-hard toffee: the knife blade bowing out under the tremendous pressure Gene applied, the nasty sound (less heard than felt in the bone marrow, in the nerves of the teeth) of a sharp edge dulling itself on the bottom of a metal pan, the explosions of sticky brown amber, the paternal cries of God fucking damn it, and the querulous maternal entreaties not to swear like that.
Sunday, September 12, 2010
Just finished Freedom. Not War and Peace, certainly, but highly absorbing in a way that I value. Here's a relatively late paragraph I liked quite a bit, about the Berglund tins of candy that "had gradually morphed, over the years, from a treat into a reminder of treats past":