For as long as the Accidental Locavore can remember, lollipops have been a Christmas tradition in my family. But we’re not talking about a colored disc of candy on a stick — these are from a collection of antique molds my mother has collected for years. As I found out for an upcoming PBS Heirloom Meals Christmas Special, my mother first started making them when she was young.
This is a tradition that has gone on in my family for decades, with friends and family coming over to help on the first Sunday in December. An old friend from high school is still a regular and now brings his wife and teenage daughter. The interesting thing for me as a quasi-outsider these days, is how everyone has a job and knows exactly what that is. My mother is still the one to mix in the color and flavors, which range from my favorite, cinnamon, to more esoteric things like clove. My high-school friend has the important and delicate job of extracting the lollipops from their molds, while his wife watches the sugar heating and his daughter is in charge of putting the sticks in the molds.
What’s interesting for me is how many molds my mother has managed to collect over the years. I think there are about thirty to thirty-five, ranging from the first in the collection, Jenny Lind, to an amazing Victorian teapot with an ornate handle. Along the way, there she’s accumulated oddities, like a bust of William Howard Taft (possibly the only Republican to grace my parents’ kitchen table) and beauties—a graceful hand.
Making lollipops isn’t a hard thing to do. You heat corn syrup, sugar and water to 300°, or what is known as a hard-crack stage, add color and flavor, pour into molds, add sticks and chill until the molds cool. The tricky bit is getting the flavorings well mixed and carefully pouring the very hot sugar. And it all has to be done quickly as the sugar loses heat and start to solidify surprisingly fast. What’s more daunting is cleaning it all up! Protecting the table with newspapers goes a long way, but candy inevitably ends up all over you and the floor.
If you want to see how this all plays out (and you know you do!), be sure to watch the Heirloom Meals Christmas Special (I’m on right after they make cheese). It’s a PBS special, airing in most markets on December 22nd.