Caramels: Comparison of Old and Modern Recipes

caramels
The caramels with walnuts were made using the hundred-year-old recipe. The other caramels were made using the modern recipe.

The holidays are a time for family fun, so when my daughter was recently home for Thanksgiving we decided that it was time for another post that compares a hundred-year-old recipe with a modern one. This year we decided to make Caramels.

I made a Caramel recipe from a hundred-year-old magazine that listed nuts, preferably black walnuts, as an ingredient. My daughter made a Caramel recipe that did not call for nuts from Sally’s Baking Addiction called Sea Salt Vanilla Caramels.

My recipe called for brown sugar. The modern recipe used three sweets: brown sugar, white sugar, and light corn syrup. It included a note which said that corn syrup is “a controversial ingredient, for sure, but an imperative one for making candy as it prevents crystallization and keeps the caramels smooth as silk.”

The Verdict: The two candies were both good, but very different from each other.

The modern recipe was delectable. The Sea Salt Vanilla Caramels were smooth and creamy, and melted in my mouth. If you want a great Caramel recipe, I strongly recommend clicking on the link and going to Sally’s website for her recipe.

On the other hand, the  hundred-year-old Caramel recipe made a candy that barely seemed like a caramel. It tasted more like a praline. If, by chance,  you are looking for a delightful walnut praline recipe, the old recipe is the recipe for you.

The hundred-year-old recipe included a warning, “These directions must be followed to the letter.”  I tried my best to follow them to the letter, but apparently failed since I think that the caramel may have partially “crystalized” (or perhaps a caramel a hundred-years-ago was different from a modern caramel).

Here’s the hundred-year-old recipe:

Source: Good Housekeeping (April, 1916)
Source: Good Housekeeping (April, 1916)

Here’s my version of the hundred-year-old recipe updated for modern cooks. (I made half of the original recipe.)

Caramels

  • Servings: approximately 50 pieces
  • Time: 1 hour active prep time
  • Difficulty: moderate
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1 pound light-brown sugar (2 cups, packed)

2 tablespoons butter

1 cup milk

1 cup chopped nuts, preferably black walnuts

Prepare a 8 inch by 8 inch square pan by lining it with foil, and then buttering the foil.  Set aside.

Put the brown sugar, butter, and milk in a large, heavy saucepan. Using medium heat, bring to a boil while stirring. Reduce heat so that there is a slow rolling boil. Continue to stir until the mixture reaches the firm ball stage (245 – 248° F.). This can also be tested by dropping a small amount of the hot mixture into ice-cold water. It is done when a caramel-textured ball is formed. Add nuts before removing from the heat. Remove spoon from mixture while still boiling to prevent crystallization.

Quickly pour into the prepared pan. Scrape what remains into another dish. When cool turn onto a cookie sheet or board.  Cut into bite-sized pieces. If desired, wrap caramels in waxed paper.

walnut-caramel

Old-fashioned Mashed Potatoes

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Mashed Potatoes are a quick and easy-to-make comfort food. It’s one of those foods that I never use a recipe to make. Long ago I learned how to boil the potatoes, whip them, add a little butter and milk, and whip a bit more to combine.

Given how easy it is to make Mashed Potatoes,  I was very surprised to discover a hundred-year-old recipe  for Mashed Potatoes that contained extensive detail.  Back then even the most complex recipes were generally short and lacked details,  Why would recipes for difficult-to-make foods leave a huge amount of latitude for interpretation, while a recipe for a basic food be very specific?

Source: Foods and Household Management: A Textbook of Household Arts (1915)
Source: Foods and Household Management: A Textbook of Household Arts (1915)

This recipe referred to two other recipes. One explained how to boil potatoes:

potatoes-boiled

The other recipe mentioned in the Mashed Potato recipe was the Potato in the Half Shell recipe, which contained information about how much butter, milk, and salt should be used when making potatoes:

potatoes-half-shell

I generally use electric beaters to make “mashed” potatoes, but I decided to give the old-time recipe a try. I dug out my old potato masher out from under all my other seldom-used kitchen utensils in the back of bottom drawer in the kitchen cabinets, and made real mashed potatoes.

Here’s the old recipe updated for modern cooks:

Mashed Potatoes

  • Servings: 4-5 servings
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
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4 cups potatoes, pared and cut into 1-inch cubes (4-6 potatoes) (I used red potatoes – though russets would also work well.)

water

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon butter

approximately 1/4 cup milk

Put enough water into a  large saucepan so that it is about 1/3 filled; add salt and bring to a boil using high heat. Add diced potatoes; return to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 15-20 minutes or  until the potatoes are very soft when poked with a fork. Remove from heat and drain. Using a wire potato masher, mash the potatoes until smooth.  Add the butter and half the milk. Mash a little more to combine. If the potatoes are too stiff, add additional milk until the potatoes reach the desired consistency. (Do not over-mash or the potatoes will get gummy.) Reheat the mashed potatoes using medium heat  To reheat, put the pan with the mashed potatoes back on the stove using medium heat for 15-30 seconds; stir once or twice. Remove from heat and put in serving dish.

mashed-potatoes-b

Hundred-Year-Old Advice Recommends Washing Fruits and Vegetables

fruits-and-vegetables

Sometimes, I am slightly taken aback by advice in hundred-year-old magazines. The October, 1916 issue of American Cookery gave an explanation of why fruits and vegetables should be washed. The advice was good, but I was amazed that it was considered somewhat controversial to wash fruits and vegetables:

Wash Your Food

The Pennsylvania Health Commissioner, Doctor Samuel L. Dixon, warns against eating raw food unless it is thoroughly washed.

“Care should be exercised in the preparation and serving of green foods, as they are subject to much handling between the garden and the table. Unless the hands through which they pass are absolutely clean they are more or less contaminated. Food exposed for sale in markets is also often subject to indiscriminate handling by prospective purchasers, and is seldom properly protected from dust and dirt.

As a protection, berries and foodstuffs eaten raw should be washed before being served. It is far better to risk a slight impairment of the flavor than to chance eating unclean foods”

Jellied Cranberry Sauce with Celery and Walnuts

cranberry-saladRemember the  old-fashioned gelatin salads with embedded mystery fruits and vegetables that great-aunts inevitably  brought to Thanksgiving dinners? Well, I’ve found one of those old recipes.  The hundred-year-old  Cranberry Salad recipe called for gelatin — and celery and walnuts.

When I made this salad I didn’t want to like it, but I was pleasantly surprised. It tasted similar to jellied cranberry sauce. The colorful, tart jellied sauce was perfectly punctuated with the crunch of the celery and walnuts.

The original recipe was for Cranberry Salad, but when I updated the recipe I renamed it, Jellied Cranberry Sauce with Celery and Walnuts, to more accurately describe the dish. Here’s the original recipe:

Source: Good Housekeeping (December, 1916)
Source: Good Housekeeping (December, 1916)

I bought a 12-ounce bag of cranberries to make this recipe. When I measured how many cranberries were in the bag, I realized that I only had 3 cups of cranberries, not the 4 cups (1 quart) called for in the old recipe. I reduced all of the other ingredients proportionately and made three-fourths of the original recipe.

When serving the Jellied Cranberry Sauce with Celery and Walnuts, I didn’t cut it into squares, and I skipped the lettuce and mayonnaise. I  just put it in a pretty dish and let people serve themselves.  Here’s my updated recipe:

Jellied Cranberry Sauce with Celery and Walnuts

  • Servings: 5 - 7
  • Time: 40 minutes active prep
  • Difficulty: easy
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3 cups cranberries (1 12-ounce bag)

1 1/2 cups water

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 envelops unflavored gelatin

3/4 cup celery, chopped

3/4 cup walnuts, chopped

Put cranberries and  1 1/2 cups water in a medium saucepan, bring to a boil using medium heat, then reduce heat and gently simmer for 20 minutes while stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and cool slightly, then press the cooked cranberries through a sieve or strainer. (I used a Foley mill. A food processor could also be used to puree the berries).  Return the cranberry sauce to the sauce pan and sprinkle the gelatin over the puree. Let sit for one minute, then add the sugar and stir. Put on the stove and bring to a boil using medium heat while stirring constantly, then reduce heat and cook for an additional minute. Remove from the heat.

Put half of the cranberry sauce into a serving dish or bowl; refrigerate until just set (about 1 1/2 hours). (Keep the remainder of the cranberry sauce at room temperature.) Remove the set cranberry sauce from the refrigerator and sprinkle with the chopped celery and walnuts. Pour the remaining half of the cranberry sauce over this , and return to the refrigerator until set.

I used a Foley Mill to make the Cranberry Sauce. It worked well, but a sieve, strainer, or food processor could also be used to make the sauce.
I used a Foley Mill to make the Cranberry Sauce. It worked well, but a sieve, strainer, or food processor could also be used to make the sauce.

WWI Troop Rations Included Honey

honey

Ever wonder what the soldiers ate during World War I? . . . Well, according to a hundred-year-old magazine, one thing they ate was honey.

Honey in the Trenches in Europe

Honey is being used in the European trenches along with sugar. Both of these articles are energy-producers, and in many cases honey is cheaper than sugar.

When the war broke out in 1914 the prices on medium grades of honey began to sag until there was no demand. In the meantime sugar began to climb. The war lords of Europe, when it came to the matter of rations, soon discovered that honey, an energy-producer, was much cheaper than sugar (also an energy-producer), and consequently honey has been going into the trenches, and is going there still.

Apparently, only the medium grades are being used, because they furnish as much energy per pound as the finer and better-flavored table honeys that cost as much or more than sugar. 

The American Food Journal (November, 1916)