Today, C is the letter dictating my topic in this A to Z challenge, and Easter is right around the corner, bringing thoughts of all kinds of sweets. So, it’s a good time to write about chocolate.
I’ve always had a weakness for chocolate. I don’t remember ever not liking it. My mother, raising her family in the 1950s, thought dessert should be offered after supper at least a few times each week. Often, because she was busy, it was something simple. Chocolate pudding was my favorite. Brownies were another treat. Chocolate cake was always my choice for my birthday.
In the summertime, we older children were allowed to walk to the store, herding several of the younger ones with us. In the quarter mile between our house and the store, there was a lakeside tavern and a boat launch. That contributed to quite a few beverage bottles tossed on the roadside. We collected the discarded bottles as we walked. The deposit in those days was 2 cents each; by the time we reached the little country grocery, we had enough to buy treats.
The ice cream freezer was favored, despite the dripping mess that would ensue on the way home. Sometimes the “nutty buddy” ice cream cone with the chocolate and nut topping would be my choice. The sugar cone held the melting ice cream, sometimes long enough to finish it. My most frequent pick, though, was the “fudgsicle.” It was a rectangular block of frozen, fudgy chocolate on a stick. Though it was delicious, I never made it all the way home without having chocolate dripping down my arms. Then I, along with all the younger kids, covered with their own sticky choices, would find the garden hose, to clean up before we went inside.
In the fall and winter, my mother attended meetings of the St. Jude Circle at our church. My father was in charge, then. Often, to entertain the children, he’d make fudge. He didn’t use a candy thermometer. I don’t think he even measured the ingredients. He seemed to work by instinct and habit. It always turned out perfectly! He gave us the credit.
Many times, as Dad stood stirring the bubbling mixture in the heavy pan, he’d spoon out a sample onto a saucer. One of us older kids was responsible, then, for carrying it over to share with the rest, making sure it was cooled enough before letting anyone dip their fingers in, seeing that everyone got a taste, and then reporting back to Dad how good it was. He was watching, as he spooned it out, for it to have reached the right temperature. Then, he’d pour it into a buttered cake pan, and we’d wait for it to set. Which it always did.
I’ve tried, over the years, to recreate Dad’s delicious fudge, always without success. Even when carefully measuring ingredients, following instructions, and using a candy thermometer to bring the mixture to precisely the right temperature, I have failed. Sometimes it’s under-done, resulting in a tar-like mixture that refuses to set up and is impossible to cut. Other times it is over-done, crumbly and gray. I finally gave up on it.
When I am craving chocolate, or nostalgic for Dad’s alchemic ritual, I make quick cookies. This is my mother-in-law’s recipe, and – as long as I keep an eye on the clock – it never fails.
In a large saucepan, combine 2 cups of sugar, one-third cup of butter, one-third cup of cocoa, and one-half cup of milk. Mix, and warm over medium heat until the mixture comes to a boil. Boil for exactly one minute. That is crucial. It’s worth having a clock or a watch with a second-hand for timing it. Then, remove the pan from the heat. Stir in about one-quarter cup of peanut butter, and 3 cups of oatmeal. Drop by the spoonful onto parchment paper or foil, and give them a few minutes to set up. That’s it!
P.S. to my brother and sisters: Before adding peanut butter and oatmeal to the mixture, spoon out a small portion onto a saucer. Eat it by licking it off your fingers while you’re waiting for your cookies to set up. It will propel you back more than fifty years, to the long table in Mom and Dad’s red and white kitchen, surrounded by smiling children, with Dad at the stove!