Clear Toy Candy – A PA Dutch Tradition
Nov 19, 2014 10:38AM
Trim all sharp edges with a file.
Story and photographs by Gina Napoli
The earliest recipes for sugary, crystalline clear toy candy span over generations in Pennsylvania, as far back as 1772. The Pennsylvania Dutch used barley sugar because it was plentiful and economical. In 1818, when less expensive cane sugar was imported to Pennsylvania, candy makers of the day made the switch.
Many of the early clear toy candy recipes use cream of tartar. Later recipes have replaced that ingredient with corn syrup, which makes the candy more resilient. Customary candy colors were red, green and yellow; candy makers used food coloring to achieve red and green candies and the high heat used to cook the sugar turned the candy a natural yellow. The food coloring adds no flavor, so all colors taste the same.
Form and Function
To cast the sugar into shapes, candy makers used sturdy metal molds. The molds could be anything three-dimensional—animals, sailboats, baskets, even an old-fashioned Father Christmas. Initial molds were made from brass and cast iron. Aluminum molds, which came later, are popular with modern candy makers because they are lighter, resist rust and are food-safe.
Antique molds are rarer, as many were donated to the war effort to make weapons. Even if you can find them, many are better suited for a museum or for display on a kitchen wall. Some have tarnished with age, and some molds have even corroded. Many have lost a lot of their metal detailing. Some have warped over time or have broken hinges that make them questionable for securely holding scalding liquid sugar.
Most molds have Christmas and wintertime themes. Old-fashioned candy kitchens make clear toy candy when the weather is freezing cold, and the humidity is hibernating. Making these treats in humid weather will make the candy cloudy, giving it a chewy film that is the opposite of sparkling.
Try making clear toy candy at home and become part of this wonderful Pennsylvania Dutch candy-making tradition.
Gina Napoli’s family has been making clear toy candy for several years. She lives in suburban Harrisburg with her husband/chief candy-maker George Kopp, daughter Samantha and dog Stella.
For a clear toy candy recipe from Nancy Fasolt, retired owner of the Cake and Kandy Emporium, Lancaster, read more below.