Old Opera Cremes Recipe

Opera Cremes

I recently flipped through the pages of the October, 1915 issue of Good Housekeeping and came across this recipe for Opera Cremes. This beautiful, delectable treat is one of the best homemade candies I’ve ever made. The pecans and creamy sweetness blend wonderfully to create a decadent taste sensation.

I don’t know for sure why they are called Opera Cremes, but I do know that a hundred years ago almost every town—even small ones– had an opera house.

When my grandmother was a teen in central Pennsylvania, she sometimes mentioned going to the opera house in Watsontown in her diary. For example, on February 28, 1914 she wrote:

Ruth and I went up to Watsontown with Pa this evening. The senior class gave their play in the opera house. Was the best one I ever was to. Some parts certainly did call forth plenty of laughter. Can hardly begin to describe how much I enjoyed it.

Helena Muffly

Hmm . . . maybe between their laughs, they found time to enjoy a few Opera Cremes.

Opera Creams

3 cups sugar

1 cup cream

1/3 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 cup chopped pecans

approximately 4 dozen whole pecan halves

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

confectioners’ sugar

In a medium saucepan, stir together sugar, cream, and cream of tartar until well blended. Using medium heat, bring to a boil. Reduce to low, and cook about 7 minutes without stirring until a very soft ball (237 degrees F.) is formed when tried in cold water. Remove from the heat.

Allow to cool for a few minutes. When tepid, stir in the vanilla and beat until creamy, then turn out on a board that is slightly dredged with confectioners’ sugar, and knead until smooth, working in the chopped pecans at the same time. Spread out in a shallow buttered pan, press on the pecan halves. Cool and cut into squares. Can also be shaped into bonbons.

Shh .. . .  don’t tell my friends, but I’m already planning to make Opera Cremes again in December to give as gifts.

51 thoughts on “Old Opera Cremes Recipe

  1. Oh, they just look wonderful…. I’ve heard of opera cremes before. Maybe there’s an opera creme cookie in the grocery stores?? Does this recipe make 4 dozen cookies???
    Thanks for sharing; it does look like a nice Christmas gift!

    1. The exact number of pieces of candy that you get will depend upon how you cut the candy and the size of the pan. I used a 10 X 10 pan, and most pieces ended up being a little over 1 1/4 inches square–but I didn’t get everything divided evenly and ended up with some small pieces of candy.

  2. It looks like fudge, only easier, with less chance of it hardening in the pan. Galveston still has an active old Opera House that provides a full season of entertainment. Maybe I should make a pan of these in its honor.

    1. Wow, 12 pecan trees–As someone who lives way too far north for pecan trees, I’ve very jealous. 🙂 Pecans are so pricey in the store. It would be wonderful to have even just one in my yard.

    1. Until you mentioned it, I hadn’t thought about them being gluten free. Based on the number of recipes in old hundred-year-old magazines and cookbooks, I have the sense that homemade candies were more popular than cookies back then.

  3. According to google, so whether this is right or not, the Cincinnati Opera House used to give out cream candies before performances. Also, whether that is the origin, not sure. Maybe they just decided to serve opera creams as a marketing strategy to connect the two?

    1. Thank you for researching and sharing the history with us. Who knows whether it is right, but it sounds like a wonderful marketing strategy to give out candy before the performances.

    1. I think that Divinity Fudge is fluffier and lighter than this candy. I haven’t made Divinity Fudge in ages, but my memory is that one of the ingredients is stiffly beaten egg whites. Opera Cremes doesn’t contain any egg.

    1. You (as well as several others) have commented about this recipe and others that I’ve posted which are gluten free. I’m going to pay more attention to this in the future. Off the top of my head, I think that a higher percentage of dessert/snack recipes were gluten free a hundred years ago than they are now because candies and puddings, which generally don’t contain any flour, were very popular back then. (Of course, they never would have used the term “gluten free.” 🙂 )

        1. Wow. . . Really? . . . I’ve never heard this before. I’m always amazed by the new things that I learn as a result of doing this blog. Why has the flour changed across the years? . . . Has the method of processing the flour changed? . . . the wheat variety changed? . . . something else?

          1. I read an article in a print gluten free magazine (for celiacs) about how the wheat has been engineered to contain more gluten. I just searched for an online version and couldn’t find it, but I found another article from the New Yorker about how gluten is added to bread. This guy quotes someone who says that it might not be true that the wheat itself has more gluten. The writer thinks the problems lies in the additives used in the process of turning it into flour. The traditional milling process–used exclusively until 100 years or less ago–involves a fermentation process. In other words, it takes a long time to turn wheat into flour. But the process we use today is a shortcut so it’s a fast process to get from wheat to flour that can be sold. They use ADDITIVES and at least one of the additives is GLUTEN. He also says some of the breads we buy have several ingredients which are all versions of gluten–flour itself and gluten additives. Since the 1950s this has affected us and caused gluten problems in people (who are not celiac). But since hubby has celiac, we have been watching articles for past few years and they keep tweaking what they believe. The bottom line is they aren’t yet sure. But he is celiac, it’s supposed to be hereditary, but he’s the first one in his family who has these health troubles, and he was born in the 1950s.

            1. Thanks for explaining it. It is so interesting how something that seems as basic as flour has changed over time.

              P.S. Several days ago I wrote the post that will go live tomorrow morning. It is about bread, and now it seems a bit inadequate. This makes me want to do more research on this topic. A very vague idea for a future post is starting to gel. 🙂

        2. I’ve had the pleasure of baking a chocolate cake using Heritage flour. By all accounts, the cake was the best tasting chocolate cake they’d ever tasted.

    1. It is an easy candy to make. I especially liked that it did not need to be cooked for very long. (Some other candy recipes that I’ve made seem like they need to cook for a very long time to get them to the right stage (soft ball, hard ball, etc.).

    1. I was pleased with how nice the candy looked in the old glass candy dish. Some of my food “staging” ideas for pictures seem to work out better than others. 🙂

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