Wearing a long skirt and apron, Suzanne Wainwright-Evans worked tirelessly in the kitchen of Perkiomen Township’s historic Pennypacker Mills. During last year’s Victorian Christmas, curious visitors filled the room, watching her make an old-fashioned favorite: clear toy candy.
“It is kind of a slowly dying art. And it’s important that we keep this tradition alive,” the hobbyist said. “It’s very unique and special to this part of the United States.”
Her hand-poured hard-candy creations range from “tiny irons for ironing” to a 29-pound train — all cast from water, sugar and cream of tartar, which “keeps the candy nice and clear.”
So far, she’s amassed “around 400 molds,” including “some of the early patented ones from Thomas Mills,” a Philadelphia manufacturer founded in the nineteenth century.
“It was expensive back then. First, you’d play with it, and then you’d eat it. It was a toy, and then it was your treat,” explained Wainwright-Evans, a scientist whose day job is “managing pests without pesticides.”
Interestingly, an insect — cochineal — once supplied the candy’s red coloring.
“I’m doing it for the historical aspect,” she said, “to make people aware of the history, to understand that this is what candy used to be like.”
So too say candymakers at Philadelphia’s Shane Confectionery, who “bring back the flavors of the past.”
“We get a lot of nostalgia from people still,” described designer Pavia Burroughs. “They remember their parents or their grandparents giving them clear toy.”
She’s catalogued more than 1,100 molds in the collection. Among them: Santa, a reindeer with “very beautiful” antlers and a bicycle-riding frog.
“They’re so fun and special,” Burroughs said. “I like the reveal when you take it out of the mold. it’s always a ‘wow’ when you open it.”
Shane sells the candies colored, but unflavored “because that’s traditional.”
“It’s sort of a shining star of your table,” she added. “For the larger ones, you’re supposed to smash them with a hammer and share them with friends.”
Back at Pennypacker Mills, a little boy gazed longingly at them, hoping to do just that. He settled for a small candy horse from the gift shop and left with a huge grin.
Basic Starter Recipe for Old-Fashioned Clear Toy Candy
Ingredients4 cups cane sugar (not beet sugar)
1 cup water¼ teaspoon heaping of cream of tartar
Candy thermometerPot, preferable copper, unlined
Food coloring (optional)Candy molds
Canola oilInstructionsAlways make sure your molds are set up before you start. First make sure your molds are clean and then brush the insides with a light oil. I use canola oil. I have found standing them on a Silpat makes for an easy clean up if you dribble candy.
Next in a pot, add your sugar, water and cream of tartar. Stir carefully, so the mixture does not splash up on the sides of the pot. Insert candy thermometer and turn burner to medium-high. DO NOT STIR AT ALL in the cooking process. NEVER LEAVE YOUR MIXTURE UNATTENDED! Watch your thermometer closely. Once it reaches 260 degrees, add color. Do NOT stir; the boiling action will incorporate the color.
Once the mixture reaches 300 degrees, remove pan from the heat. Let the mixture stop boiling and cool for a minute or two. Then pour slowly into the molds.
Optional: Clear toy candy does not have sticks, but if you would like to add them you need to wait till the candy just starts to cool and then insert stick. If you put them in too soon they will lean, too late, the candy will be too hard to insert the stick. Once the molds have cooled till they are warm, open them up and check to see if the candy is firm enough to remove. If still too soft, close mold and wait. If firm enough, pop the candy out on to tray to cool. Let candy cool to room temperature and then bag or display.
RECIPE COURTESY OF WWW.CLEARTOYCANDYMOLDS.COM