I Met A Man.
In my job I have the joy of going out and meeting strangers from different walks of life; people who seem to be separated by many differences. But no matter the differences, whether I am at a posh retirement community with concierge service, or working with students from a Title 1 school, we all have candy stories.
One of my first memories I associate with candy is being with my Grandmother at the zoo and eating Necco wafers; those round, powder-covered, pastel-covered pieces of crunchy pastillage whose taste vaguely resemble the colors they represent. (I pronounce it “pahs-tee-ahg” but I am not French, so don’t go quoting me on that.) Anyway, that was 50 years ago, and eating one today still brings up feelings of happiness and nostalgia. Speaking of nostalgia, there was the time when I was 9 years old and had a big box of chocolate-covered Malt Balls all to myself. I’m sure you know where this is going. That delicious, crunchy, tasty center and sweet chocolate coating make your tongue do the happy dance. However, much to my despair, I leaned that eating an entire box in one sitting makes your tongue dance so much that it keeps you up all night stomping on your stomach.
Good memories or lessons learned, we all are drawn to the sweet things in life. I am a candy making GEEK and I love to talk shop. When I visit retirement centers I always ask, “Who here has made candy before?” Almost without fail someone has a candy story like spending summers learning to make chocolate fudge with the cousins in Grandma’s kitchen, and wondering why it never turned out as good as her fudge? I once had the pleasure of talking to a lady who spent her teenage summers on Coney Island helping to pull salt water taffy, and cooking caramel for the dipped apples that she also helped to sell. It seems everyone has a candy story.
A couple of weeks ago I was spending the day teaching candy making at a summer camp. While I waited to be shown where to set up for the day, I met a man, Mr. Mihn, a gentleman from Vietnam who came to America in the mid-Seventies. He found out that I was going to teach the campers about chocolate and candy making he told me that he grew up on a cacao plantation. Later, I learned that Vietnam has only about 1% of the world’s cacao production, so it seemed amazing to meet someone whose early life was spent tending and harvesting chocolate there. He said they would watching as the little fertilized white flowers transformed into green cacao pods and then grew in size. He was a teenager at the time, and would travel the plantation with his father to check on the ripening pods. Twice a year, when the pods turned from green to red, he would help to harvest and sell them to the people who did the fermenting and drying. Since his family did not do the fermenting and drying themselves, I was unable to learn more about how those important processes are done in that region at that time. It was just a short conversation as we had to both get on with our days, but still it was really something to connect with someone whose early life was touched by chocolate, and I hope to get the chance to meet him again to continue our chocolate talk.
Every country and culture has their unique sweets and treats that they are known for. In Spain, Italy and parts of the Middle East it is Nougat: (cooked sugar, egg whites, nuts and flavors), some are hard some are soft all are remembered fondly. In China it may be Dragon’s Beard, a hand pulled sugar treat that looks and acts like cotton candy. Someone from France may remember the candied fruits and flowers popular there. Even different parts of the same country have regional favorites, think Maple candies from Vermont or Sponge Candy from New Jersey airy and crunchy, flavored with molasses or honey. The next time you find yourself stranded in an airport or next to a stranger on a ferry and you want to start a conversation just ask them about their favorite candies. I’m pretty sure they’ll have one and will tell you about it. Go ahead you never know who you might meet.