It’s another Christmas and another opportunity to bring new addicts on board. I know it sounds sinister for this gentle season, but there’s a reason some people refer to me as “the crack dealer.”
There’s just something about that toffee. The recipe came into my possession several years ago from a friend who now no longer speaks to me, but more about that later.
There’s a short list of ingredients: butter, sugar, pecans and chocolate, with a secret additive that can be found on any kitchen shelf. The process, once you get the hang of it, is also uncomplicated, but my other friend who also has the recipe swears she has to stand with her feet planted in exactly the same spot in front of her stove to achieve candy mojo.
When we were first learning the recipe there was a lot of toffee the consistency of molten lava filling the garbage can, but soon we were churning out perfect toffee for the people at work, the people in our book clubs and the church bazaar. Part of the attraction, people say, is the satisfying crunch without the danger of pulling out a filling. Another is the teensiest little undertone of the toffee tasting burnt because you boil the dickens out of the sugar and butter. In order for the candy thermometer to register in the “hard crack” zone there tends to be a little smoke that wafts from the pot.
Yet another of the toffee’s charms is that it comes out best when the air is cold and clear — perfect for the Christmas season. It reminds me of the character in Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory,” who sniffs the air and declares, “It’s fruitcake weather.”
So, my three friends and I had the toffee recipe and we each had our own stable of clients. The people at my work were the ones calling me the crack dealer after I would bring in a tin a few weeks before Christmas just to get everyone good and hooked and clamoring with orders. The first year I sent it to my brother and his family out in Oregon, he and my sister-in-law feared a major addiction and begged my niece to hide it in her closet. In the middle of her homework, though, came a frantic knock on her bedroom door.
“Heather! Heather! Where’s that candy?”
My father said I wasn’t allowed to come home for Christmas unless I brought along the toffee. People would tell us it was their most favorite thing under the tree. One person told me with tears in her eyes that the dog had sniffed it out under her tree and didn’t leave her so much as a pecan.
The candy even found its way to the Supreme Court where one of the justices (I can’t say which one, but he was instrumental in the Obamacare decision) went ga-ga over it — yet another validation that we had a good thing going. We took the next logical step and explored making it into a real business. But we forgot that other piece of logic that says do not go into business with friends, which is eventually why this particular woman is no longer speaking to the three of us.
Our trio still makes the candy for family and friends, but it’s certainly not on the scale of satisfying a nation of toffee lovers, which is really too bad. I truly believe if Washington had a few pounds to happily munch, officials would be saying: “What fiscal cliff?”
— Nancy Luse writes from Frederick, Md., and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org