By David J. Griffin, Times Reporter
For my entire life I have been a lover of home-made candy, and my grandmother Mommie Katie was one of the best candy cooks I have ever known. She did not make candy very often so when she did, it was a special treat.
One fall Saturday afternoon, Kenneth Hansel and I were playing in her yard when she called through the screen door for us to come to the kitchen. I first thought we were in trouble but she quickly explained that she wanted us boys to do a favor for her. She said, “David Joe, if you and Kenneth will go to the woods and gather me a large bucket of hickory nuts, I will make some old fashioned fudge.” Kenneth and I were very excited because we both loved her fudge candy, and we exclaimed we would go immediately.
She provided us with a large galvanized bucket and told us to fill it to the brim with the nuts. She added before we left, “Now boys do not bring the nuts back with the hulls still on them, I just want nuts not the hulls!” Kenneth and I were very familiar with the trees in our part of the county, so we decided to walk to the Big Fill Cave area where we knew we could find enough hickory nuts to fill her order.
We scampered down US25 until we reached the Vaughn farm and crossed the fence to the rocky road that led to the cave area. It was probably about a mile from Mommie Katie’s house to the wooded property near the cave. As soon as we reached the site, we began to survey the trees to locate enough nuts to fill her bucket. As the cool fall wind swirled around our feet, we picked up the nuts that had fallen to the ground. It took us about two hours to gather enough nuts. Most of our time was spent using rocks to remove the hulls before we dropped the nuts into her bucket. As soon as the chore was complete, we hurried back to her house with delight in our eyes.
We rushed through the kitchen door with eyes as big as saucers, and exclaimed, “Here are the nuts, Mommie Katie!” We thought our part of the proposition was complete only to hear her say, “Now you boys go out to the back yard and get a large rock and Pop’s hammer so you can shell the nuts for my candy.”
We looked at each other with a sigh of resignation on our faces. Kenneth said, “Do you know how long it will take us to shell all of these hickory nuts?” My answer was, “How bad do you want some of her hickory nut fudge?” The question was of course rhetorical. Kenneth loved her candy as much as I did. So we set out to remove the small morsels from the extremely hard shells.
Pop provided us with a concrete block and a couple of hammers to complete our task. For the next few hours, Kenneth and I hammered away at the bucket of nuts. Gradually, the bowl that Mommie Katie had provided us started to fill – and our muscles began to ache. Finally, the bowl was filled to the brim, and we took our prize to Mommie in the kitchen. As we walked through the kitchen door, I said, “The hickory nuts are all shelled, so how long will it be until the candy is ready?”
At this point, Mommie Katie began to chastise us about getting in a hurry. She explained that she had dinner to prepare and that it would be later that night before she could start making the candy. We of course were disappointed but the thought of her candy gave us reason to remain excited about what was to come.
Kenneth and I considered the possibility that the candy would not be done until almost bedtime, so we walked to his house to see if it would be alright for him to spend the night with me. His mother consented, he put some clothes and his toothbrush in a paper sack, and we returned to Mommie’s house. After dinner, we volunteered to wash the dishes so she could begin the candy making.
We sat on kitchen stools watching the Master at work as she flitted around her kitchen with bowls and wooden spoons carefully measuring evaporated milk, sugar, cocoa, butter, and vanilla. Mommie used the old-fashioned method of determining when the mixture had cooked long enough. I never did understand the “soft ball” test to see if it was done.
Finally, she poured the dark mixture into a large glass baking dish to cool. She explained that she was going to set the dish out on the porch to facilitate the cooling process. That was alright with us because our mouths were watering as we anticipated the fine fudge.
After a couple of hours, she announced that the fudge should be cool enough and that we could go with her to retrieve our reward. As soon as we walked onto the porch, Mommie began to scream, “Get out of here you nasty cat!” Pop’s barnyard feline had been walking around on our fudge! Tracks were all over the top of the glossy, shinny candy. Kenneth and I would have cried but we were too old for that. Can you imagine the disappointment we experienced?
The moral of this story is you should always protect your interest when working as hard as we did that day. I think Mommie Katie would have skinned that cat if she could have caught the rascal. She apologized and went to bed.
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