This is an activity that has literally been years in the making for our family. I’m not sure if it was after I first read “Little House in the Big Woods” out loud to Miss M or if it was on a later re-reading, but we found this passage inspiring:
“They all hurried to the kitchen for plates, and outdoors to fill the plates with snow…Grandma stood by the brass kettle and with the big wooden spoon she poured hot syrup on each plate of snow. It cooled into soft candy, and as fast as it cooled, they ate it. They could eat all they wanted, for maple sugar never hurt anybody.”
Two winters ago, we had plenty of snow. Miss M asked me several times if we could buy real maple syrup to make the maple sugar candy. I never quite got around to buying the maple syrup. Then last winter we had very little snow, and not much at any one time when we did get any.
For months before this winter, the kids were asking, “Mom, is THIS the year we’ll make the maple syrup snow candy?” I resolved to finally make it happen. I found real Maple Syrup at Aldi after our first snow of the year had mostly melted (yea for bargains!), and then we just had to wait for another significant snowfall. It’s been a dry winter, but we finally got a few inches of snow on Sunday.
After reading a recipe or two, as well as the comments about those recipes…I decided that maybe it didn’t really matter exactly how I made this maple syrup snow treat. Microwave the syrup? Use room temperature syrup? Random people on the internet made me think this easy solution would work just as well as the complicated idea of boiling the syrup on the stove to a certain temperature. Here’s what it looked like on our first effort:
The result was more like…maple-flavored snow cones? Or maybe a bit like a maple “ice cream” of sorts?
I didn’t want our memory of this activity to be so un-candy-like, so I thought we could try again the next day. After a bit more reading, I decided maybe the recipes were right — We needed the syrup heated up to a higher temperature for the syrup to turn into candy. I don’t own a candy thermometer, so I had to rely on the cold water test to determine if my syrup was hot enough.
Here’s take two:
Our result was much better, but still overcooked. I under estimated the time it would take Miss M to retrieve a pan of snow from outside. Meanwhile, my syrup got hotter and hotter — almost to the point of burning. It was probably at stage 5, the hard crack stage, instead of stage 1 the soft ball stage! But luckily, hotter produces candy of some variety!
Our candy was not taffy-like at all, but hard and brittle…yet still tasty (if a bit burnt tasting!). I also realized as I was making this that using a sheet of ice would produce pretty much the same result. Of course, in the pioneer days of Little House in the Big Woods, no such sheets of ice were conveniently available in the kitchen. But in this modern day and age, if it is just the maple candy taffy “result” we are looking for, there’s no need to wait for a snow day!
There is a lot of potentially interesting science study involving the science of sugar and candy-making. I found this unit study on candy to be very interesting! I didn’t spend a lot of time looking, but I’m sure there are many more candy science resources to be found.
I may try the maple syrup candy yet again with a candy thermometer, just to say I’ve mastered this generations-old treat…or maybe we’ll move on to making the best-possible rock candy. That’s what the kids are voting for!