Christmas is my favorite time of year. I love everything about it. I stand in awe of the true symbol of the holiday, a tiny child sleeping on a bed of straw in the midst of sheep, oxen, shepherds, and kings. Being with family is the most important part of this holiday for me. And one family tradition that has gone on for ages is the making of a sweet holiday treat, Grandma’s chocolate candy.
This sugary concoction is as much a part of Christmas in our family as eggnog and Ebenezer Scrooge. It’s a tradition that dates back over 100 years. This recipe has been passed down through the women in our family for at least five generations. It has been called fudge. Others have called it brittle. Some have referred to it as “a hard piece of chocolate-flavored grit.” In our family, it is simply known as chocolate candy, and at Christmastime, it can always be found on my grandmother’s kitchen table, tucked tightly in an olive-colored Tupperware container.
My grandmother was born in 1933 in the depths of the Great Depression, when many items were rationed, including sugar. So it was reasonable that this candy was a very special treat only enjoyed at Christmas. Once conditions improved after the Depression, the candy was made more often. “Folks could afford a little more,” my grandmother said.
The candy is a very simple mixture of sugar, cocoa, milk, vanilla, and margarine. The ingredients never wavered until Grandma decided to change it “just a little.” “One time I just mixed in some peanut butter to make it smooth and poured in some peanuts for a little added treat,” she said. Now she usually makes two batches at a time, one with nuts and one without. “I still like it the way Mama made it, you know—plain,” she said.
For the candy to turn out right, the weather has to be clear and sunny. “If it’s raining, snowing, or just cloudy, the candy will turn out hard and gritty,” Grandma warns. “It must have something to do with the humidity.”
Despite changes brought on by the passing of time, when the Christmas season approaches, that green Tupperware container will be sitting on Grandma’s table, beckoning me to lift the lid and take a trip into the past. There, in that single moment, the entire Christmas holiday and a century of family stories are wrapped up in one little piece of Grandma’s chocolate candy.
5 cups sugar
¾ stick margarine
4 tablespoons cocoa powder
½ cup peanut butter
1 ½ cups milk
½ cup peanuts
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Mix sugar, cocoa powder, and milk in a large saucepan. Place over medium high heat and bring to a boil. Stir occasionally. Cook until a spoonful dropped into cold water forms a ball. Take off heat and mix in vanilla, margarine, and peanut butter. Pour half the mixture into a greased dish. Stir the peanuts into the remaining mixture and pour into a greased dish. When cool, cut into squares and store in an airtight container.