New Year’s Days of yore – plus a bonus candy recipe!

LOSTRECIPES_Taffy

What do this delicious-looking fudge and long-ago New Year’s Day celebrations in Queensborough have in common? Read on! (Photo from the Lost Recipes page of myneworleans.com)

Well, the holidays are behind us, and a long and – to judge by how it’s been so far – very wintry winter lies ahead. Doubtless we’ll make it through to the other side, to those happy days when the streams start to run, the crocuses peek through the snow, and the scent of sun-warmed earth greets us when we go outdoors of a morning. But on this early-January evening, the end of a day when several inches of snow fell and fell and fell and fell on Queensborough and a great deal of shovelling, snowblowing and plowing was done by all, springtime seems a long way away.

So to cheer us all up before Christmas fades too far into the rear-view mirror, I’d like to share a wonderful Queensborough holiday memory from sometime around the early middle of the last century.

The memory is not my own (though I wish it were); it comes from Barbara Martin, a good friend of Meanwhile, at the Manse and of Queensborough generally. Barbara (née Sager) grew up in Queensborough, one of several children of the proprietors of Sager’s General Store, Bob and Elsie Sager. (In later years, the running of the store was taken over by Barbara’s older sister Bobbie, a woman who is legendary here for her community service, strength of spirit, terrific sense of humour and kind-heartedness, and for just generally being a force of nature. I’ve written about the late Bobbie Sager Ramsay and her store before, notably here, and my first-person account of Bobbie’s wedding – a surprise event that stunned the good folk of our hamlet – is here.) While Barbara and her husband, Don, have lived elsewhere for many years, she keeps Queensborough close to her heart and visits whenever she can. One reason she is important to this place is her vast store of memories of what it was like in the days of her youth.

Barb Martin at former Sager's General Store by Queensborough Beauty

Barbara Martin outside her family’s former general store (now a private home and the headquarters of the Pronk Canada Queensborough Machine Shop) on Historic Queensborough Day this past September. (Photo courtesy of Queensborough Beauty)

Jamie and Tory at LOL by Gary Pattison

Jamie Grant and Tory Byers, new owners of the former Orange Hall, are turning it into an arts space that can be used for community events such as the Black Fly Shuffle dance. (Photo courtesy of Gary Pattison)

In the comments section here a few days ago, Barbara shared one of those memories. Since many readers don’t see all the comments that are posted, and since this one was too good not to pass on to you, I decided to build this week’s post around it. And there’s an added bonus: you get a candy recipe out of it!

Here are Barbara’s words, sent in response to my New Year’s Day post a week ago. In it, I mentioned events planned for our village in 2018, one of the most fun of which is the return of the Black Fly Shuffle community dance in the former Orange Hall. (It’ll be on Saturday, May 26, and you won’t want to miss it. Stay tuned to this space for details as the time gets nearer.)

I think you’ll agree when you read this that Barbara conjures up a lovely, Christmas-card-type image of Queensborough in the – well, not quite the “olden days,” but let’s say in times past. Over to you, Barbara:

It is ironic that you mention a possible dance in the old Orange Hall, as I had just mentioned to Don last evening how on New Year’s Day we always went to Uncle Bruce and Aunt Carrie’s for a dinner at noon, sleigh riding and horse and cutter ride in the afternoon, back for supper in the evening and then to the dance in the hall that night. Also Aunt Carrie always made homemade ice cream and Russian toffee. I do make the toffee, but have not had homemade ice cream since Bobbie passed away. What wonderful memories.

Oh my goodness! Can’t you just picture yourself bundling up in your warmest coat, mittens, hat and scarf, after a big holiday noonday meal, and being taken for a horse-and-cutter ride in the snow and the sunshine, the clear, brisk air reawakening both you and your appetite? There are many farm fields around Queensborough – notably in behind the spot where the home of Barbara’s Uncle Bruce and Aunt Carrie Leslie stood – where one could go dashing through sparkling, pristine snow in the proverbial one-horse open sleigh. And then another meal, complete with homemade ice cream and that candy I hinted at earlier, and then gathering with all your friends and neighbours for a community dance in the Orange Hall, the old kerosene stove blazing as the music played, couples swung ’round, kids watched in delight, older folks chewed the fat, and a roaring good time was had by all. Now that’s what I call a New Year’s Day celebration!

Thanks to Barbara’s evocative description, I almost feel like I was there. I sure wish I had been.

Two Queensboro Cook Books

My two treasured copies of the Queensboro Cook Book, given to me my two wonderful Queensborough women: Barbara Martin and her cousin, the late Isabella (Sager) Shaw.

But on to the candy. I was intrigued by Barbara’s mention of Russian toffee, which I’d never heard of before, and so I asked her about it. In a followup email, she filled me in and steered me to the recipe – which I am delighted to report is in my two treasured copies (one of which, you won’t be surprised to hear, I got from Barbara) of the Queensboro Cook Book! Published in 1966, when I was a six-year-old living here at the Manse, it is one of those church cookbooks produced by the thousands across the country back in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. As I’ve written before, leafing through its pages and seeing the names of the recipe contributors and the advertisers takes me right back to my happy minister’s-kid childhood in this house.

Ads in the Queensboro Cook Book

Advertisers in the Queensboro Cook Book. Wow, does this take me back.

So back to Russian toffee, or taffy as it seems to be more commonly called. Sure enough, just as Barabara told me, there it was on Page 37 of the Queensborough Cook Book, the first page of the Candy, Jelly and Preserves section:

Candy, Jelly and Preserves in the Queensboro Cook Book

And the recipe was contributed, it turns out, by Barbara’s niece, Sharon Cassidy! (Who is now Sharon Morgan, and who I was delighted to see again after all these years when she visited Queensborough on Historic Queensborough Day.)

In doing a bit of quick research on Russian taffy online, I discovered that it seems to be something of a specialty of the New Orleans area. I found mention of it here, in a blog called Louanne’s Kitchen, where it’s referenced as a New Orleans treat; here (where it is oddly spelled “Russin Tafffy”) on a site called Cajun Grocer (“Louisisana’s Best to Your Door’); and here, on the site of New Orleans’s venerable newspaper, the Times-Picayune.

And I thought to myself: Isn’t that odd? What could be the connection between Queensborough and Louisiana for a creamy fudge treat? Any thoughts, readers?

At any rate, here’s a closeup of Sharon’s recipe if you’d like to try it yourself, which I assure you I intend to do:

Russian Taffy recipe, Queensboro Cook Book

And here is some additional helpful advice from Barbara:

You really do have to stir it constantly or it will stick to the bottom of the pot.  Also you need to use a pot with a heavy bottom.  Be sure and time it as soon as it starts to boil, because if you boil a few minutes too long it will get hard.

It should be chewy and I put it in the fridge to cool and get a bit harder, take it out, cut it and wrap in pieces of wax paper. (The recipe) does not mention pan size, but an 8 by 8 is the perfect one to use.

So there you go, readers – one last holiday treat for you. Enjoy!

16 thoughts on “New Year’s Days of yore – plus a bonus candy recipe!

  1. Hi Katherine. That cookbook looks very familiar and prompted me to head to the cupboard to see if it was among Mom’s collection. I certainly remember the Maple Cream recipe. No Christmas was complete without Grandma Love’s homemade maple cream and Uncle Will’s popcorn! Times have changed but I bet I could use my new KitchenAid mixer to whip up a batch! As always, thanks for sharing!

    • Believe me, Carol, it was my pleasure to share this one! I love old cookbooks and memories of homemade treats from “the olden days.” And yes, I bet your KitchenAid would do a swell job – and would have been the envy of your Grandma Love!

  2. Thanks for another wonderful trip down memory lane. May you and Raymond enjoy every blessing of 2018. Also, we thank you again for helping to make our Hazzard’s Christmas another memorable event. …GnG P.S. We are happy that Stephen Ambury (son of Rev. George who was a minister here) has agreed to be our guest minister for our “Summer in a Country Church” service in August.

    • The Hazzard’s Christmas service was magical and meaningful, as always, gng – congrats to the hard-working organizers. Looking forward to meeting Stephen Ambury in the summer – I have an old sign from St. Andrew’s from when his dad was the minister that I will have to show him. Happy new year!

  3. Katherine, imagine how surprised and pleased when I came down to my computer to find that your blog was about my comments on New Years Day. I notice someone mentioned maple cream candy, well Russian toffee is not a maple cream but a real toffee consistency. However, the recipe at the top of that page is the maple cream candy that Bobbie made and was a hit with so many people. Thanks again for all your kind words. Bobbie would always make some and take into the girls at the Bank in Madoc and I remember the day of the auction sale, one of the girls from the Bank wondered if the pot she used was in the sale, of course it was not as I kept it and I never seem to be able to get it to taste as good as hers.

    • Barbara, I thank you so much for providing the inspiration, and much of the material, for this post! And also for yet another Bobbie story in this comment: wow! How, on top of everything else that she did, did she have time to make candy for the workers at the bank?? What a force of nature your sister was. And now I will have to try the maple cream too!

  4. Oh my goodness Katherine, I have so many stories to add about the Queensborough corner stores and driving to both to pick up and deliver the mail with my Grandfather, Harry DeClair. The oldest of 21 of Harry and Hilda’s grandchildren, I often stayed with them before I started school. When I bring you and Raymond the fixins for margaritas and tacos this summer we can weave a beautiful story. With love and respect.

  5. Hi Katherine: Happy new year to you & Raymond. Your blog article is very interesting, and the description of the sleigh ride and fun, indeed, is the sort that makes for beautiful Christmas card scenes. Thanks for including the recipe and for the details about the Queensboro cookbook (a real treasure!), and for the back-history from your friends, Barbara and Sharon. Those recipes sound delicious, especially the Russian Taffy and Maple Cream, as I’m very fond of anything that is “butterscotch-ish”. The recipes prompted me to dig out a newly-acquired, old, local cookbook (one that had belonged to my grandmother), from 1957, of the Kinettes in Tweed. I saw a similar Maple Cream recipe, and I was surprised at seeing contributions from Wilma Knapp of Sulphide (you wrote about her, here: https://atthemanse.wordpress.com/2014/02/04/ive-got-a-secret-you-couldnt-make-this-stuff-up/) Thanks again for such a nice article.

    • A very happy new year to you too, Sash! Thank you for your kind words. And wow, another reference to Wilma Knapp, the woman who stumped the I’ve Got a Secret panel with her dress made entirely of nylon stockings! Good stuff indeed.

  6. Hi Katharine. Been enjoying your blog for some time. It reminds me of country life and growing up on a hardscrabble farm on Barker Rd. North of Eldorado during the 1940s and 1950s. Good to see that the L.O.L. bldg is being restored. While I was in high school, myself, my brother and a lifelong friend by the name of Russell Hass (Yes, he grew up on a farm on Hass Rd N. Of Queensboro) formed a little amateur country band. I well remember playing for social gatherings at the Lodge building in the 1950s. Also of great interest was your earlier notes on Johnson’s corners in Elzevir twp. My mother taught school at Johnson’s corners in the 1940s. I recall our father driving over there every Friday to bring her home in his worn out 1920s era Essex car. It had a habit of throwing connecting rods so he carried his tools and some spare rods with him. One time the engine began to knock badly. He pulled the car over a roadside ditch, crawed under the car and changed the con rod. Within a half hour he had reassembled the lower engine parts and we proceeded on our way. My brother and I often remark that we grew up in conditions little removed from pioneer times. For example, my mother drove a horse to school when she taught at Cooper and we studied all through high school by the dim light of a kerosene lamp on the kitchen table. I wouldn’t to live that way again but I treasure those memories. For that reason, a few years ago I wrote a personal memoir, detailing our experiences during the 1940s and ’50s in the hope that succeeding family generations may be interested.
    Regards Gurney

    • Gurney, I can’t begin to tell you how much I enjoyed, and appreciated, you comment and your memories of growing up in this area. Wow! Someone who was in a band that performed at the Queensborough Orange Hall – that is fantastic! (Are you guys available for our Black Fly Shuffle this year by any chance?) (Only kidding.) (Or maybe not.) Your reminiscences of dreadful roads and worn-out cars prone to breaking down on them remind me of my own childhood here at the Manse, and my dad always working on our ancient cars to try to keep them running. Now for the important thing: is there any chance I could read your memoir? I would be so interested…

      • Katherine; Didn’t see yr reply until today but what a pleasant surprise!
        Nine years ago I made a few bound copies of my memoir and distributed all but one to family members. However I have printed a few partial loose leaf copies from time to time for people who have requested same. It is over 100 pages in length but I would be pleased to reprint selected or most chapters for you and mail them to you (unbound) if you wish, all at no charge of course. To do that I would need your address.
        I live in Toronto but last fall, Russell and I took our annual nostalgia drive around the countryside down there…visted Madoc fair and drove into Queensborough and by the manse, the mill and L.O.L Lodge among other places. A very good day!
        Regarding our band; after I retired I played in an amateur country band around Toronto for seven years including five times at Madoc’s O’Hara’s Mill. You can see us playing on stage at the Mill if you search You Tube at “O’Hara Heritage Day 2013”. I am the bass player in the back stage. I was also briefly interviewed by Terry Pigden at the Mill in 2014 where I exhibited a scale model 1912 car. If you want to waste a few minutes, search on “O’Hara Mill Heritage Day 2014”. I plan to exhibit at the Mill again this summer.
        Looking forward to your reply…Gurney

      • Hi Gurney – I’ll send you a reply backchannel by email, but yes, I would be thrilled to read your memoir, but let’s see if we can do it electronically and thus save you time, trouble and expense. I’m so sorry that I didn’t get to meet you and Russell when you stopped around last fall – if that’s an annual visit, this year we are on!

  7. Lovely memories of a time long past. But maybe just maybe those memories and taste bud recipes can be relived in just a small way. Starting with a good ole shin dig at the LOL.. 😉

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