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
  • Print

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

How to Crack Black Walnuts

16-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Thursday, November 9, 1911: Nothing to write.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

A few weeks ago Grandma mentioned hulling walnuts. At that time I gathered some black walnuts and hulled them. I then spread them out to dry. My husband I have now cracked some of them and taken the nut meats out.

We put them into a vice to crack them–and had problems with the walnuts flying all over the garage.

We then covered the walnuts with a piece of cloth before cracking. This worked really well at containing everything. Once the shell was cracked it was easy to get the nuts out.

The walnuts tasted great–just like I’d remembered from my childhood. The flavor is more intense than grocery store walnuts–but it is really good.

Hulling Black Walnuts

16-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Saturday, October 7, 1911: Hulled some walnuts this afternoon. Tried to be careful of my hands, but they got stained somewhat.

Black Walnuts

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Black walnuts grow semi-wild in Pennsylvania–and across much of the US.

The hull is the outer  husk. It must be removed to prevent spoilage. The nuts are then dried. After they are dried they can be cracked.

Crack hulls with feet. Then use hands to remove.

Last week-end my husband and I gathered some black walnuts at a park. We took them home and hulled them. We put the nuts in an old net onion bag and hung them in the garage to dry. They’ll be ready to crack and eat by December.

Walnut stains on my hands. This is one powerful stain. Three days later my hands are still brown, and everyone at work is teasing me about being an auto mechanic. (Bottom line: Wear gloves when hulling walnuts.)

Oct. 15 Addendum: I mentioned putting the walnuts in a net onion bag to my father. He was horrified and said that they would mold. He said they should be spread out on newspapers in a cool dry place (an attic is ideal).  So I checked my walnuts and noticed that two of them had a spot of mold of them. I discarded those walnuts–and spread the rest out on newspapers to dry.  Stay tuned . . .

Nov. 9 Addendum: I’ve now successfully cracked some black walnuts. Click here for today’s post on How to Crack Black Walnuts.