Thursday, December 26, 2013

Peanut Butter Fudge

Last night, H asked everyone to share a funny Christmas story with the family. I thought desperately as we went around the table, trying to come up with a story that wasn't funny touched with sad because for me my Christmas youth was rather bittersweet. I can't honestly think of a bad Christmas but I can't think of any that didn't have some kind of sadness or anxiety or worry underlining them. I came up with a recent story, one where I surprised H really good with his gift, and even Umberto kept his cool with the secret. But it made me think about the Christmases of my past, and that's when I became a bit obsessed with making my Gram's Christmas fudge. I had plans to make fudge anyway as I always do this time of year but this time I wanted THE fudge. The one that when I bit into, I'd taste the crystal grains of sugar. I could taste what this fudge was supposed to taste like even thought I hadn't had it in years.

My Grams made fudge for every Christmas. She'd wrap the pieces in tissue paper and put them into Christmas cookie tins. Each family got one tin, and I looked forward to it every year. It rated right up there with presents. We usually opened this treat at the family Christmas Eve party, and about an hour in all the cousins including me would be jacked on sugar, running around like hamsters without wheels.  The noise level would escalate to proportions that would drive even the most patience adult into yelling for quiet. All that delicious sugar though was too much to resist, and we devoured the fudge in one night fighting among ourselves for that last piece. I now wonder if any of the adults even got a taste.

When I was in college, I'm pretty sure there was a period where Gram's stopped making the fudge. But then again it was also the period where I stopped going to the family parties. Christmas Eve was spent first with a boyfriend's family, and then at my job, or alone. Later when I started to attend the family functions, first with H and then with a wee Umberto, the fudge was no longer being made for sure. H can't remember having this wonderful sugar treat and he would remember if he had tried it.

Now my own children have only been to Maine once for Christmas. We're not able to get up often. It's expensive. And cold.  But last night, I knew that I had to recreate this bit of Christmas. This memory that I hold very close to my heart. It is a constant. An always beautiful thing, a taste, a sweetness of my Grams.

I could have asked my Gram's for the recipe, and I will, but I decide to make this fudge late. I was pretty sure she was sleeping. I hauled out my good heavy pan, the evaporated milk, sugar, mini-marshmallows (I think my grandmother uses Marshmallow creme), butter, peanut butter, and vanilla. I found my candy thermometer that I NEVER use. And I prayed because the chances of getting this fudge to set on my first try were not high. As I stirred the butter, milk, and sugar, waiting for the rolling boil, I remembered watching my grandmother stirring the ingredients. I loved watching my grams cook. She always told stories. She was a story teller, and she wove together my favorites: the way her horse, an old race horse, would race into the barn, forcing whoever was on his back to duck low so they didn't hit the door frame, stories about milking cows on her family's diary farm, stories about me when I was a baby. I loved them, and I'd stand on a chair watching her add ingredients while she talked.

The mixture came to a boil nicely, and I clipped on the candy thermometer while I put together the mini marshmallows and peanut butter in a bowl. I checked with something bordering on obsession waiting for the red line to hit 234. When it hit nine minutes later, I quickly took the pan off the stove, and stirred in everything else. I poured the mixture into a square baking pan, and prayed. H and I licked the spoon, and I closed my eyes as that first taste of sweet hit my system.

"If this fudge sets, it's going to be perfect." I told H.

And when I checked later, it was starting to get hard. None of us can resist it though, and we've been sneaking bits off. It's supposed to sit over night and I know if we can wait it will be perfect by morning.

It's always amazing to me these moments when I can reach into the past and pull out a memory this way. Usually the past comes with nasty attachments that end up making me sad or disappointed. Recreation rarely works. But tonight I have fudge that when I bite into it, I am back beside my grandmother, warm and happy, filled with the sweetness of fudge and her stories. Free to hear them as a child hears them. With all the magic.

I think this year was the year for such a perfect thing to happen. This Christmas I hit the balance between making Christmas joyful and fun without trying to compensate for my own past Christmas memories. This year it was about celebrating a year filled with love, a year with the people I love the most in the world. I realized I hadn't put much thought into how we were creating memories but more about how we were just living, having fun, making the most of the excitement. We played, we cooked, we crafted, and at some point I realized that we were doing things that would serve as markers for my children. Moments that they could look back on and touch. And in that space, I was able to recreate in all it's sugary delight, a perfect memory.

My Grams with my girls. 

Grams getting a kiss from R.

Merry Christmas from a group of wild beastie.

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