Sisters make sweet confections from the past

December 14, 2008|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

Before the lollipop, before the Jolly Rancher, there was the "clear toy candy," the Shank sisters explained.

Deborah Shank, 58, and Susan Shank, 56, of Hagerstown, make and sell the candy at City Farmers Market in Hagerstown.

The candies are made by pouring a hot sugar-water-corn syrup mixture into metal molds. Once the candy cools, you've got homemade hard candy.

Shaped like glassy, mouth-size figurines, Victorian-era boys and girls used them as toys before they ate them. The Shank sisters said the candy's history goes back farther, to German settlers. Clear toy candy reminds some people of their childhood, especially around Christmas time.

"A lot of people come in and they have these clear-candy stories," Susan Shank said.

Some of the stories were about how kids used to get them at Christmastime. Others were sad Christmastime stories.

"One woman," Deborah Shank said, "remembered that she'd only get one piece."

The Shank sisters remembered receiving lots of clear toy candy for Christmas when they were little girls. They believed that Santa had put the candies in their stockings.


Traditionally, the candies came in a wide variety of shapes, such as a duck, a locomotive, a cow, a tin soldier and a hand.

"The hand was really popular," Deborah said.

Susan remembered finding hard toy candies shaped like a giraffe and like a leg wearing a garter belt and thinking, "Oh please, don't let me get a leg with a garter, or another giraffe."

By the 1960s, the sisters said you couldn't find homemade hard candy in stores. Susan suspects that easier-to-make chocolate candies, which are also made from molds, edged homemade hard candy out of fashion.

"They're also chocolate, which is an advantage in itself," Susan said jokingly.

But 10 years ago, the sisters spotted the candy while shopping at a market in Lancaster, Pa. It inspired them to start making the candy again and collect reproductions of antique candy molds. The Shank sisters adapted their own recipe from a one they received from a Lancaster woman and from several cookbooks they've acquired.

This year, they decided to put the recipe to use by selling the candy at City Farmers Market. They were also willing to share that recipe with Herald-Mail readers.

"We get enjoyment from these molds," Susan said. "They can make you smile."

Clear toy candy

2 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cups white corn syrup
2/3 cups water
1/4 teaspoon red food coloring
1 dram (0.125 ounces) cherry-flavored oil (see cook's note)
Olive oil to coat the inside of the mold; can also use oil spray or vegetable oil

Equipment needed: candy thermometer; basting brush; 5 two-sided candy mold trays (each mold typically holds 3 candies each) (see cook's note)

Mix sugar, corn syrup and water in a pan and set over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring just to mix the ingredients. Once the ingredients are mixed, stop stirring.

Scrape down the sides to water level - the sides must be clean - and allow the mixture to reach a boil.

Once it reaches a boil, insert a candy thermometer. Once the thermometer reaches 260 degrees, add the color and flavoring.

While the mixture is cooking, oil the molds with a brush. Assemble the molds and secure them with a rubber band. Place the molds on paper towels to drain the excess oil.

Continue to cook until the mixture reaches 290 degrees, (300 degrees if conditions are humid). The mixture will take about 30 minutes total to cook.

Set aside and allow the mixture to settle for about a minute; this releases some of the bubbles.

Place molds on aluminum foil or set mold in a large pan. Once the candy mixture has settled, pour into the molds. Allow the candy to cool for about 10 minutes (larger molds might require more time). When you're ready to remove the candy from the mold, take off the rubber bands and pry the mold open with a knife. Use a sharp knife to pry the candy from the mold, starting at the base.

If the candy is cooled enough, it should pop free from the mold easily. You might be able to simply lift the candy out. If the mold has not cooled enough, the candy will cling to the mold; wait a few minutes and try again. But if the candy cools too much, it will cement itself to the mold. Dip in hot water to dissolve the candy and clean the mold.

Display as art or serve as candy.

Yields approximately 15 small pieces

Cook's notes: Craft stores carry candy-flavoring supplies. Metal candy molds are available on the Web or at antique stores. Most plastic candy molds are not suitable for making hard candy.

- Courtesy of Deborah and Susan Shank

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