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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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!