Pumpkin Palooza

This year the release of the PSL (pumpkin spice latte—a new acronym I learned this week—) was August 24. As I sat writing in Starbucks, I wondered how we went from my childhood of pumpkin pie and pumpkin bread around the holidays to the pumpkin/pumpkin spice frenzy of today. That made me curious about the history of pumpkins, and to the internet I went.

To my surprise, pumpkins are fruit. (Sidebar, so are all squash, eggplants, avocados, and cucumbers. And, so you can answer the why question, it’s because those plant have seeds and the items we eat develop from the flower-producing part of the plant. Botanically that makes them fruit.) Archaeologists believe pumpkins originated in Central America 7,500 years ago, but unlike todays, those were small and had a bitter taste. (Which again makes me wonder how they caught on for food!)

Despite that beginning, a recipe for a side dish with diced pumpkin was published in New-England’s Rarities Discovered, in America in the 1670s. After that, women developed more pumpkin recipes. Serving sweet pumpkin dishes during the holidays didn’t start until the 1800s. However, the first pies were scooped out pumpkins filled with a ginger-spiced milk, then roasted by the fire. Hmmm, an early PSL?

Fun pumpkin facts:

  • Antarctica is the only content where pumpkins aren’t grown.
  • Pumpkin seeds (each pumpkin has around 500) can be roasted, then salted and eaten. The flowers are also edible.
  • Pumpkin, which are 90% water, contains carotenoids which are good for eyes and neutralizes free radicals that can attack cells.
  • Pumpkins are also high in lutein and zeaxanthin which could reduce cataract formation and risk of macular degeneration. They also contain potassium, vitamin A, iron, zinc, and fiber.
  • Irish immigrant brought the tradition of Jack-O’-Lanterns to the U.S., but instead of using turnips or potatoes, they used the American pumpkins.
  • In the United States, the heaviest pumpkin was grown in New Hampshire (2018) and weighed 2,528 pounds.
  • In 2010 a pumpkin pie was baked in Ohio weighing 3,699 pounds and over 20 feet in diameter.
  • Early American settlers cut pumpkin shells into strips, dried them, and wove them into mats.
  • Morton, Illinois is called the ‘Pumpkin Capital of the World’ and the home to Libby’s pumpkin industry. Illinois also grows the most pumpkins.
  • Pumpkins were once a remedy for freckles and snakebites.
Large pumpkins are usually used for feed for livestock.

Yesterday my Pinterest feed was filled with pumpkin recipes. My research didn’t really explain how we went from the first pumpkins to the craze we see today. But maybe the answer has something to do with the following Pilgrim verse, circa 1633.

For pottage and puddings and custards and pies
Our pumpkins and parsnips are common supplies,
We have pumpkins at morning and pumpkins at noon,
If it were not for pumpkins we should be undoon.”

I may not have satisfied my original curiosity, but at least now you can astound and stun your friend and family with your amazing pumpkin knowledge this Thanksgiving!

To be entered in today’s random drawing for Howdy Fall T-shirt, tell me what’s your favorite pumpkin recipe or what fun fact surprised you the most. Happy (almost) Fall, Y’all!

Natalie Bright: The Legacy of Ranching Traditions

We’re very thrilled to have author and rancher Natalie Bright visit and tell us of her observations about the cowboys of yesterday and today. There’s little difference it seems. She has a new cookbook out full of recipes they serve to the men on the Sanford Ranch. Nobody appreciates good food like cowboys! She’s also giving away a copy.

Thank you all for having me. It’s great to be back. Over a year and a half of research went into my most recent book about the history of the cattle driving era and the food of the chuck wagon. As I searched through countless archived images, I realized that the work cowboys did over 150 years ago continues today. My photos of the Sanford Ranch cowboys are almost identical. The traditions established then are still practiced.

In the early days, fences did not block the route from pastures to the railheads north. Neighboring outfits drove their combined herds to central locations and the trail drives usually consisted of thousands of head. Livestock was rounded up in early spring and branded to establish ownership. Charles Goodnight is credited as inventor of the chuck wagon used to feed cowboys during the months long drive to market.

On the Sanford Ranch we hold spring branding and the tradition of feeding the branding crews continues. These crews consist of seasonal dayworkers, skilled cowboys who travel from ranch to ranch providing extra labor during the busy times of spring and fall workings. A rope, a saddle, and a good ‘cowey’ horse remain the primary tools of the trade. Some ranches treat the cowboys at a local café, while others utilize an SUV or cook trailer to carry food to the pasture. We have an actual cookhouse on our ranch, and we employ a cook who relies on friends and volunteers who enjoy being a part of branding every year. Here are some pictures I took of our cookhouse and branding season.

   

After breakfast, everyone is saddled and ready to go before first light. Instead of the grit and grime of a trail drive over thousands of miles, horses and riders are transported by pickup truck and trailer. The Ranch foreman makes assignments and explains the route, just as the trail boss did long ago.

A cow’s way of thinking hasn’t changed much in 150 years, and the necessary work of a cowboy remains. The most efficient positioning of driving a herd of cattle is still in practice today. The point man rides in front of the few older cows who naturally become leaders, flankers are on either side and the drag riders follow behind in ‘the dust of the drag’, as it’s called.

Ownership of livestock and land was respected and held in high esteem then as it is now. Our pastures are large, several sections in size (a section equals 640 acres) and the fence line neighbor is notified when we gather. If we have any of their strays, then they can pick them up or we deliver them back home.

I’m the photographer on the ranch and you’ll see me with a camera when I’m out. I love this ranch life and the way I see it I’m recording history and trying to make sure it doesn’t get lost.

My newest book, KEEP ‘EM FULL AND KEEP ‘EM ROLLIN’, is classified as cookbook but it contains so much more. Along with history and photos, the book includes over 100 recipes from authentic cow camp meals to modern recipes from our own cookhouse. You don’t need a fire pit or a chuck wagon. You can prepare these dishes in your own kitchen…and you can bet they’re all cowboy approved. (Click on the cover to go to Amazon.)

In my new western romance series, THE WILD COW RANCH, my co-author Denise and I include some of these long-held traditions of cattle ranching as well as the small-town sense of community and faith. Elements that are very much alive today. (Click on the picture and it’ll take you to Amazon.)

What interests you the most about the American cowboy and the cattle ranching legacy?

For a chance to win a FREE copy of my cookbook, KEEP ‘EM FULL AND KEEP ‘EM ROLLIN’, please leave a comment below. And if you enjoy pictures of cows and the Texas sky, follow me on Instagram @natsgrams #sanfordranch and Pinterest.

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Lessons From My Grandmothers

My Grandma Walter holding me with my Uncle Wayne sitting beside us.

The older I get the more grateful I am for what my grandmothers taught me. I wish I could spend one more day with each of them to ask all the life, history, and family questions I was too young to know would be important later.

Most of the recipes I’ve shared with you were my Grandma Walter’s. I wish I’d made time to write down more of them while she cooked. As my birthday approaches, I remember the times I was on the farm in July. She would ask what I wanted for a birthday cake, and my response was always the same. I wanted her angel food cake with fresh strawberries mashed so they were all syrupy. She also gave me a love of gardening, though my thumb is more brown than green like hers was. I took a sewing class in high school (and still use those skills) because she sewed. From her I learned how women could be quiet, patient, and still possess an indominable strength.

My Grandma Ryan’s grocery store in Ohio, Illinois.

My father’s mother, my Grandma Ryan, possessed a more obvious strength. Widowed young, she raised four sons. With three grown sons, I can’t begin to imagine how daunting and scary that must have been. I wish now I’d asked her how she managed. She remarried, but her second husband died when I was a toddler, leaving her with a general store to run in a town of less than five hundred people. She had breast cancer before I was born and bone cancer as long as I can remember. Through all that, she never complained or thought God was punishing her with these trials. She loved to play cards and would sit with my brother and I playing her current favorite card game. From her I learned to laugh and that a woman could make a life for herself. But the best gift my Grandma Ryan gave me was, making me feel special. As one of only two granddaughters, she made no secret she loved us just a bit more.

A picture of me and my Grandma Ryan when I was two.

No wonder grandparents play such guiding, supportive roles in many of my books. In my most recent release, To Marry a Texas Cowboy, Zane carries a plane full of family baggage. After divorcing, his parents concentrated on their new lives and families. Zane became collateral damage and part of a past they wanted to forget. Who stepped in to fill the void and create the hero I fell in love with the minute he walked on the page as a friend in To Love A Texas Cowboy? His grandparents.

My Grandma Ryan spent every Thanksgiving and Christmas with us, but rarely cooked. Today I’m sharing a recipe she gave me. This one, referred to as “frozen salad,” is easy and great for these hot summer days. Two notes about it. First, while we called it a salad, it could be served as dessert, and second, watch out for brain freeze eating it straight out of the freezer! I prefer to give it a minute or two to thaw some before eating.

Frozen Salad

Ingredients:

  • 1 can Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 can cherry pie filling
  • 1 lg. can crushed pineapple (drained)
  • ¼ tsp almond extract
  • ¼ C lemon juice
  • 1 12 oz container Cool Whip (thawed)

Directions:

Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl. Place in 8 x 8 freezer safe container overnight.

 

Giveaway: To be entered in today’s random drawing for the USA y’all T-shirt and a signed copy of To Marry a Texas Cowboy, leave a comment about something you learned from a grandparent or significant older person in your life.

 

A Kitchen for Summer by Pam Crooks

Most of us would find it hard to fathom having two kitchens in our homes.  But many old ranch and farm houses did indeed have two, and any farm or ranch wife would tell you she couldn’t get through her summer canning, pickling, and baking without one.

Hoosier 2
Vintage Hoosier

Often built at the back or side of the house, its purpose was strictly utilitarian.  The main kitchen would likely be the gathering place for the family and had cabinets like any of us could imagine–holding plates, bowls, groceries, etc.  The main kitchen would have a stove, ice box or refrigerator, etc., as well as the family’s dinner table.

The old farm houses from years ago would not have had air conditioning, and so the summer kitchen was intended to keep the heat from bulk food preparation away from the main part of the house.  The summer kitchen would likely have had a ‘mother’s helper’ or more commonly known as a “Hoosier.”  The Hoosier held shelves and drawers and crannies for cookbooks.  The shelves contained bowls, utensils, measuring cups and spoons, spices, flour, sugar, and the like.  Everything a housewife would need to prepare and preserve food for her family.

The summer kitchen would have a stove, likely a sink, and a table or counter top.  They usually had two doors, some more, to open and let fresh air in.  Windows were a must so they could be opened for the same reason.  And oh, the smells that would drift into the yard and down the lane!

Although my Italian grandmother lived in the city, she had a summer kitchen in her old house. She called it simply ‘the back porch’, but it’s purpose was the same. The room was located in the back of the house, beyond the main kitchen (as small as a postage stamp!) and down a short hall.  I remember as a little girl going out there, my memories vivid of the cracked linoleum floor, the pale green walls, and bright, ceiling-high windows.  How my grandmother managed to wash them, I can’t imagine.  She didn’t have a Hoosier, but instead this green metal cabinet which I was fortunate to have as my own now.  (Alas, we keep it in the garage for garage stuff now, but I think of my grandmother every time I walk by.)

In addition to the metal cabinet, she had a nice-sized refrigerator.  Once, I opened it and discovered a package of octopus from the meat market, which totally grossed me out.  She would have boiled the octopus, sliced it, and served it as a salad with olives, oil, lemon juice, and celery and onions. Or she would have simply simmered the boiled octopus in sauce.  Regardless what she did with it, she knew better than to serve it to us kids.  We would have refused to eat it!

Next to the refrigerator was an upright freezer where she kept breaded zucchini blossoms (they are to die for!), homemade bread crumbs, sausage, and Italian bread.  But the main star of the back porch was a big gas stove where she did her canning and prepped foods for freezing.  Over those burners, she roasted hundreds (thousands?) of red peppers, then put them into bags for steaming before peeling and seeding.  I tell you, I bet those walls still hold those smoky, mouth-watering aromas to this day.

Alas, she didn’t have sink, which had to have been inconvenient, but at least the porch was close to her garden–just down a few stairs and a left hand turn outside.  Tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, and onions grew in abundance, all in preparation for their time in the summer kitchen. Mama mia!

 

 

I think if I was a ranch wife, my summer kitchen would be my favorite room in the house – even in winter!

What is your favorite room in your house?  Where do you hang out the most?

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Trace McQuade has lost everything–his ranch, his brother, the woman he wanted to marry. When his quest for justice fails, he leaves Texas to head north, but he never expects an outlaw’s baby along the way.

Morgana Goldwater needs to be needed. After she endured a terrible tragedy, she lives in a narrow, protected world. When Trace needs help caring for the baby girl, she is quick to take them both into her heart and into her life.

But their troubles return, and Trace and Morgana must face their past to keep loving the little girl–and each other–in their future.

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A Cowboy is an Appetite Ridin’ a Horse – by Pam Crooks

Almost all of my western romances revolve around cattle or cattle drives, one way or another.  Having grown up in western Nebraska, cattle were everywhere, a common sight along the interstate or highway.  Roll down the car window and get a whiff?  Ah, we used to say.  Smell that money.

But cattle need cowboys.  And cowboys need to be fed.  On cattle drives, the chuckwagon cook spent his days feeding an outfit of fifteen or twenty hungry men.  His wagon became their home away from home, a place to gather in the middle of nowhere.  It was here a man could get warm by a fire, swap a tall tale or two, and fill his belly before hitting his bedroll for a short night’s sleep.

He’d wake again to the smell of strong coffee. His meals were three squares of beef, sourdough biscuits and coffee.  Maybe a dessert of raisin pudding, a popular standby.  Or dried apples.

Cowboys loved sourdough and so did the cook. He started the sourdough before leaving the ranch, mixing flour, salt and warm water in a crock twice as big as the mixture.  He added a little sugar or molasses to help it ferment, and voila!  Sourdough starter. Cared for right, (warmed in the sun to aid fermentation and replaced what he used with more flour, salt and water) a cook could keep sourdough going for eternity.

Pretty amazing if you think about it.  Versatile, too.


Since today is National Apple Pie Day, how about a cowboy’s version of apple pie on the range? I’m happy to share an authentic chuckwagon cook’s recipe for Dried Apple Cakes.

  • 3 cups dried apples, chopped
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • –Dry Baking Mix as follows–
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 Tb. Sugar
  • 1 Tb. Baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup lard or shortening
  • Sift or mix dry ingredients.  Cut in lard or shortening until mixture resembles fine meal.
  • 1 1/2 cups Sourdough Starter (recipe below)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup butter

Cook dried apples in the water until tender.  Drain and save the juice.

Measure 2 cups juice, adding water if needed.

Mix 1/4 cup sugar with the above recipe of Dry Baking Mix.

Stir in Sourdough Starter to moisten flour.  Turn onto a floured surface and knead lightly. Pat or roll to a 12 x 18 inch rectangle.

Sprinkle with apples.  Roll, starting at short end.  Cut into 12 slices. Put remaining sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, butter and the 2 cups apple liquid into a large deep skillet.

Bring to a boil.  Gently lower slices of apple-sprinkled dough into hot syrup.

Bake in a 375 degree oven for 35 – 40 minutes.  Makes 12 servings.

Sourdough Starter

  • 1 quart lukewarm water
  • 1 pkg dry yeast
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 4 cups all-purpose four

Put water in large crock. Add yeast, sugar and flour. Cover with a clean cloth. Let rise until mixture is light and slightly aged, about 2 days. As you use the sourdough, replace it with equal amounts of flour and water.


What is your favorite apple recipe?  Have you ever worked with sourdough before?

Tell me if you love (or hate!) apples and you can win an e-book copy of UNTAMED COWBOY, Book 1 of my C Bar C Ranch series.

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Carina Lockett is driven to build a legacy for her young daughter, and she doesn’t need a man to help her do it.  But when her precious child is lured away and held for ransom, she must swallow her pride and ask for Penn McClure’s help.

Penn McClure has no intention of playing cowboy for any woman, especially one as strong-willed as Carina.  But driving a herd of cattle to Dodge City is no easy task.  And he has a score to settle with the man waiting for them at the end of the trail.

Along the way, he discovers Carina is pure female–and that her legacy has become his own.

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Happy Valentine’s Day–A Little Early

I know Valentine’s Day is eleven days away, but I never seem to think about the day soon enough. That means I end up running around like crazy trying to do something special. In order to keep that from happening this year and in case you need ideas, I’m sharing some Valentine’s Day facts and one of my favorite (and easy dessert) recipes for tiramisu.

  • Over 36 million heart shaped boxes of chocolate are sold every year.
  • Men spend about twice money as much on Valentine’s Day gifts as women.
  • Teachers receive the most Valentine’s Day cards, followed by kids, then moms, wives and girlfriends.
  • More than one-third of men are okay not receiving anything on Valentine’s Day.
  • The only other day when more flowers are sold than Valentine’s Day is Mother’s Day.
  • Candy hearts were invented by a pharmacist and were originally medical lozenges! Not only that, but 10 new sayings are introduced every year.  
  • People prefer receiving candy over flowers.
  • Caramels are the most popular candy in a box of chocolates.
  • 40% of people prefer an “experience gift” such as concert tickets or an evening out.
  • 3 out of 10 people say they skip celebrating Valentine’s Day, though they might treat themselves to a small gift or a night out with friends.
  • It was bad luck to sign Valentine cards in Victorian times.
  • 3% of pet owners will give their pet a gift this Valentine’s Day.
  • In Finland Valentine’s Day is called Ystavapaiva which translates to “Friend’s Day.”

I think making Valentine’s Day about celebrating everyone we care about and appreciate in our lives is fabulous! That could prevent the holiday from being one where so many people feel excluded. This year, let’s all reach out to one person who might feel left out or despondent on Valentine’s Day—a single friend, a widow or widower immediately come to mind. I’m reminded of the song “Love is Something if You Give it Away.” For the lyrics click here. The more love we share, the more we create in this world.

Now on to dessert!

Ingredients—

8 oz. Mascarpone cheese

½ C powdered sugar

½ tsp run extract

1 C heavy whipping cream

Lady fingers

½ C coffee

2 tsp cocoa

Directions–

1. Place Mascarpone cheese, powdered sugar, and run extract in large bowl. Whisk by hand or with electric mixer until smooth. Don’t over mix.

2. In separate bowl, beat whip cream until stiff peaks form. (If the whip cream isn’t stiff you’ll get a runny filling.) Fold into cheese mixture until combined.

3. Place lady fingers in 8 x 8 dish. Spoon coffee over ladyfingers making sure to cover completely. Top with half the cheese mixture. Layer more ladyfingers on top of this and cover with remaining cheese mixture. (Recipe calls for 3 layers using 1/3 each time, but I only do 2 .) Sift cocoa powder over top.

4. Chill at least 4 hours before serving.

5. Top with whip cream, or not. Enjoy with a friend or family!

To be entered in today’s giveaway for a valentine T-shirt and a copy of Home On the Ranch:  Colorado Rescue leave a comment about your favorite Valentine’s Day treat.

Christmas Crispies

Don’t you just love all the decadent goodies at Christmas time? I do. Probably more than I should. But, hey, that’s what New Year’s is for, right? No counting calories until January 1. It’s a Christmas law. Or should be.

My hubby always buys Christmas M&Ms to fill my candy bowl and, of course, I have to have the Christmas-wrapped Dove dark chocolates on hand.

Some of my favorite things to bake at Christmas include snickerdoodles, butter toffee, and shortbread. But the one goody that gets made every year without fail are my Chocolate Peanut Butter Crispies. Super easy to make and scrumptious to eat.

I hope that you and your family had a marvelous Christmas holiday whether together in person or in spirit. Keep enjoying those leftover goodies, and go ahead and make a few more. Don’t forget . . . calories don’t count until January 1!

Boot Scootin’ Holiday Favorite Cow Pie Cookies

 

As some of you may know, my daughter is a chef and is always coming up with interesting recipes.  I asked her to think up a recipe for Cowboy cookies and she did.  These yummy cookies are now a family favorite. My daughter wasn’t thrilled when I called them Cow Pies, but the name stuck and it makes the grandkids giggle.  Enjoy and have a Merry Christmas. 

 

 

Cow Pie Cookies

              Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1-1/2 cups packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups old-fashioned oats
  • 2 cups (12 ounces) chocolate chips
  • 1 cup of pretzel Bits
  • ¾ cup chopped pecans toasted
  • 1 tbsp sea salt flakes

Directions

  • Place pecans on a 15x10x1-in. baking pan. Bake at 350° for 6 to 8 minutes or until toasted, stirring every 2 minutes. Set aside to cool.
  • In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla; beat well. Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt. Add to creamed mixture; beat well. Stir in the oats, chocolate chips, pretzels, and pecans. 
  • Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto a greased baking sheet. Sprinkle the sea salt flakes on top.  Bake at 350° for about 12 minutes or until brown. Move to wire racks to cool.

What is your favorite Holiday treat?

                           What I hear when I’m with you, is two hearts beating as one. 

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It was just his luck to have a run-in with a trigger-happy damsel.

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A Favorite Christmas Candy From My Childhood

Hello everyone, Winnie Griggs here. Can you believe Christmas is just a few short days away? December just really got away from me. I only just managed to get my tree decorated and stockings on the mantel this past Sunday. But better late than never I suppose.

 

When I first thought of what I might produce for this post, I let my thoughts run to the Christmases of my youth. And one of the first memories that came to me was of my momma in the kitchen making Christmas candy, so called because she only made these treats at Christmastime.  She would make fudge, pralines, divinity, and bar cookies. There was one in particular that was my very favorite. I know everyone thinks of pecans when you think of pralines but they do come in other flavors as well. One of these flavors is coconut. Since I’ve never been much of a fan of pecans, these were a real favorite of mine. And come to think of it, I’ve never seen coconut pralines anywhere else – just those produced by my mom and grandmother.

And the fun part of these candies, besides the fact that they were oh so delicious, was that momma would buy fresh coconuts still in the shells and once she cracked them open, drained the milk (which I loved!) and dug out the meat, she would give them to me and my younger sister to peel and grate. with a hand crank grater. My sister and I really enjoyed this, especially since once the pieces got too small to work with we would eat them – so yummy! I still have that old grater to this day, though I haven’t used it in years.

 

And here is the recipe, named for my Mom:

Shirley’s Coconut Pralines

Ingredients

    • 2 cups of sugar
    • ¼ teaspoon of salt
    • ½ cup of whole milk (coconut milk can be substituted for all or part)
    • 2 cups of shredded coconut
    • ½ teaspoon of vanilla or almond extract

 

Directions

    • Combine the first 3 ingredients in a 2-quart or larger saucepan.
    • Stirring constantly, cook over medium heat until sugar dissolves.
    • Continue cooking, without stirring, until contents reach the soft ball stage (235-240°).
    • Stir in the shredded coconut; then continue cooking until it reaches the soft ball stage again.
    • Remove from the stove and allow to sit undisturbed for 10 minutes.
    • Stir in the extract and then beat vigorously with a wooden spoon until the mixture thickens and turns creamy in color.
    • Quickly, before the candy hardens, drop by rounded tablespoons onto waxed paper, forming patties. Let cool before removing from wax paper.

 

Wishing you all a joyous and blessed Christmas regardless of your circumstances.

 

 

Classic Christmas “Sweeties” Part 3 ~ by Pam Crooks

If you read my blogs the past two months, you’ll notice a definite theme.

Candy.

My little series began in October with “Satisfying that Old-Time Craving for Sweeties” – you can read it here – and focused on candy from the 1800s.

The sweeties moved on to mid-20th century and featured treats we remembered from our youth, and it was great to reminisce with you!  You can read that blog here.

This month, we’re movin’ on up to modern day treats, and what better time of year to talk about candy than at Christmas?

The classic treats, of course, are candy canes, fudge of all varieties, chocolate-wrapped candy, and sugar cookies frosted and decorated. We could mention divinity, peanut brittle, ribbon candy, or peppermint nougats, too.

traditional christmas candy, old fashioned candy

The list is infinite.  But one thing I can say for certain is that no Christmas is complete without ALMOND BARK!

Yep. The basis for so many treats today is incredibly easy to work with. It’s a magical treat that the hard-working housewives of the 1800s had never heard of.  Likely not the ones from the mid-century, either.

Though I have scoured the Internet, I could not find the origin of almond bark anywhere.  But I know it’s been around for decades. The first time I’d ever heard of it was the seventies, I believe.  I remember being at a grocery store and finding almond bark for the first time. I intended to make some amazing peanut clusters that I’d heard about, and one of my classmate’s mother noticed me studying the package for directions and asked me how to use it. We stood in the aisle discussing the marvels of almond bark, and it’s been a staple in my house ever since!

The name almond bark is a bit of an anomaly. It does not contain any nuts, though it is very often used to coat them. It’s more of a confectionary coating rather than real chocolate since it does not contain cocoa butter.  Instead, it contains other fats like cottonseed or palm oil. Almond bark usually is sold in one pound slabs, supposedly to resemble bark.  I don’t really get that part, but whatever, right? It could also be called candy melts, candy wafers, candy coating, or summer coating.

The best news about almond bark? Your microwave does all the work!  No double-boilers or extra ingredients.  It’s so incredibly versatile, I couldn’t possibly tell you all the ways you can use it.

But here are a few ideas:

 

 

I can’t resist adding this one!  Elf Snack Mix from Shanna Hatfield’s COWBOY CHRISTMAS. So good!

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Of course, you want the recipe, right?  

ELF SNACK MIX

 

10 cups popped popcorn

1 cup cocktail peanuts

2 cups mini pretzels

1 bag red and green M&Ms

1 package white almond bark (or candy melts)

1/4 cup Christmas sprinkles, optional

 

Combine popcorn, peanuts, pretzels, and M&Ms. Set aside.

 

Melt almond bark/candy melts according to package directions. Pour over popcorn mixture.

 

Stir well to coat. Top with Christmas sprinkles, if desired.

 

Store in an airtight container.

 

So there you go!  Classic Christmas treats made from almond bark that are super easy, extra delicious, and more importantly, microwavable!

What is the one Christmas treat that you make every year without fail?

Do you have a favorite almond bark recipe?

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