Boiling sugar and corn syrup and baking soda into honeycomb candy is just the kind of magic I had in mind for celebrating Valentine’s Day.
For most people, this Sunday is a celebration of romantic love, with all of the hearts and rose trimmings. For me February 14th is more about familial love because it is my Dad’s birthday.
And it is also my grandmother’s (his mother’s) birthday, now a long time passed on.
A love For food
Both my Dad and Grandma Sampson were the very first food lovers in my life. Not in any kind of pretentious “foodie,” trendy, know-it-all way. It was simply their relishing the sublime experience of eating.
Growing up, I witnessed them both smacking their lips regularly over foods that would certainly not make other people’s mouths water. Lamb, liver, haddock, oyster stew, and all manner of raw shellfish–true New Englanders. When eating boiled lobster, which we did a lot, they both delighted in what other people consider garbage, the tomalley.
I vividly remember screeching “Ew!” at the slimey green stuff inside the lobster cavity. But the pair paid no mind as they savored it, though I recall seeing on their lips a knowing smile that said, “She doesn’t know what she’s missing.”
I’ve learned that look myself and to love a lot of their favorite foods (tomalley excepted).
Through the years, my father has taught me more about the appreciation of food than any cooking school or restaurant. And about balance, too. He was an early adopter of extra-virgin olive oil but eats full-fat ice cream. He’ll thoroughly indulge in a rich, four-course restaurant meal with wine one day and be sure to take a 5-mile walk the next.
The rest of the time, he models moderation–and a healthy appetite for leftovers in all forms. Now we call this mindful eating.
While I’ve shipped him other delicacies in the past, including homemade Italian sausage, the occasion called for something chocolate. So I reached for a cookbook I have not opened in years by a Portland, Oregon food writer who passed away last week named Sara Perry.
I only met Sara twice, but I admired her food writing career for a long time. As a columnist for the Oregonian, she championed Northwest chefs and cooking well before Portland was on anyone’s culinary map but the followers of James Beard. And she authored over a dozen cookbooks still in print. I wanted to be just like her.
What I remember from our time together was that we didn’t talk about cookbook writing or publishing or the food scene much at all. Over croissants and coffee at the now-closed St. Honore Bakery, she beamed while talking about plans she had with her daughter, son and grandchildren.
Her Facebook posts illustrated a love for fun, family, friendship and travel. This was a woman who knew the place of food and that living a joyful life is all the ambition you need.
And I still want to be just like her.
She and my Dad would have enjoyed a whole platter of oysters together, I’m sure.
Homemade Candy Says I ♥ You
Flipping through Deep Dark Chocolate (Chronicle Books, 2011), I found dozens of ideas, and I recommend this book to any die-hard chocolate lover, wannabe candy maker or anyone who wants to make homemade chocolate treats just once or twice a year. Because, like Sara herself, they are approachable and friendly and fun.
I settled on the Bittersweet Caramel Honeycomb in the “Candies and No-Bake Treats” chapter. Boiling sugar and corn syrup and baking soda into a foamed caramel was just the kind of food magic I had in mind for celebrating. In honor of Valentine’s, I tinted the honeycomb pink (though as you can see it came out kind of peach).
There were other flaws–in the mixing, the chocolate coating–and I got it in the mail late, too. But that’s food and life and relationships–and love. Imperfect, impermanent and precious.
Happy Birthday, Dad. And Happy Valentine’s Day to the rest of you.
Chocolate Honeycomb Candy
I typically make recipes my own at Forage, but this one comes almost straight from Deep Dark Chocolate by the late Portland, Oregon food writer, Sara Perry. I say "almost" because in celebration of Valentine's Day, I tinted the candy with red food coloring to make a pink honeycomb. I've also amended the directions with the most important points I learned in making this candy. It's very easy to make, and you do not need a candy thermometer, so long as you follow the instructions as written.
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup water
- 3 tablespoons light corn syrup
- 4 ounces dark chocolate, melted
- 2-3 drops red food coloring optional
Lightly grease an 8-inch by 8-inch baking pan with cooking spray. Line the pan with a sheet of parchment paper overhanging the sides to make a handle and make a seam so that the paper stays folded outwards.
Pre-measure all of the ingredients and have them ready by the stove. Sift the baking soda to remove all lumps.
In a heavy, medium saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the sugar, water and corn syrup. Cook swirling the pan occasionally, until the mixture becomes very pale straw colored, about 10 minutes (300 degrees F if you happen to be using a candy thermometer, though it is not necessary). As soon as the sugar syrup is straw colored, and no darker, remove the pan from the heat and add the baking soda and the food coloring, if using.
Using a silicone spatula, stir the mixture quickly until the baking soda is blended and the color is even. It will foam and expand. Do not overwork as the mixture hardens quickly.
Pour the foaming syrup into the prepared pan. Do not spread, although you can tip the pan slightly to even it out. Let the candy set at room temperature for 10 minutes. Spread the melted chocolate over the surface and leave it at room temperature for about 3 hours until set.
Use the "handles" to lift the candy from the pan. Turn the candy over and use a knife to crack it into bite-sized pieces. Or, for uniform pieces, score the candy using a ruler and knife and bend to break it along the scorelines. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.