A Spoonful of Sugar - Making Herbal Candy
From The Essential Herbal Magazine July/August 2010
By Tina Sams
I no longer use corn syrup, but do add a "hunk" of butter (about 2 T) when adding the sugar. It keeps the foaming down a little and also keeps the cooling candy pliable a little bit longer so that it's easier to work with.
A couple of years ago, Marty Webster wrote about making horehound lozenges, and the instructions were very inspirational for me. Before I knew it, all kinds of ideas were running through my head!
Oh, it started simply enough.... what about elderberry? Maybe something relaxing? Oh! And Holy Basil "on the go"!
All you need is a candy thermometer, a large, heavy pan, and an afternoon. A helper for cutting in the end helps too.
When I was a kid, one of my best friends was from a large farming family, and they had an interesting side business. They made hard candies in about 15 flavors. On candy making nights, I would often stay overnight and help, because many hands were needed. In their basement, they had a stove, and would set 4 kettles filled with sugar, water, and Karo syrup to boil. There was a ping-pong table (probably reinforced) that took up most of the room, and we were stationed all around the table with heavy shears. The table was dusted with confectioners sugar. The father would heave a marble slab up onto the head of the table. As the first kettle reached the right temperature, he'd pour the molten mixture onto the slab, and work it with paint scrapers. Then he'd add the color and flavor and continue to fold the sweet, thickening mixture together. Finally, he'd start to cut it into fat 1/2" wide strips, and toss them out to us to cut into bite-sized pieces. It had to be cut quickly before hardening, but those first few strips were soft and very warm. We would always sample a piece or two. Quality testing at its finest. By the end of the night, there would be bins full of candy, and a bunch of kids high on sugar.
These memories also inspired me. I'm sure that that production set-up would not satisfy today's regulations, but it sure was fun.
The recipe I use is:
3/4 to 1 cup of strongly infused herbal "tea"
2 1/2 cups of sugar
1/2 cup corn syrup
I have not had a chance to experiment with honey, and I believe that one could use all sugar, but this recipe worked well for me. You may want to try a few variations if the corn syrup is objectionable.
To make the tea, I put the herbs, berries, etc., in a pint jar and covered with boiling water, allowing it to steep for several hours. Then I strained it and squeezed the dickens out of the pulp to get all the good stuff. If there is less than a cup of liquid, that's fine.
Put the liquid into a large (at least 2 quart) pan. It bubbles up a lot during cooking, so you need a lot of space.
Add the corn syrup and stir to blend. Add the sugar and turn on medium high heat. Stir only until the sugar is dissolved. Set the thermometer on the side of the pan, with the tip in the liquid, but not touching the bottom of the pan.
Let 'er rip!
While it cooks, grease a 10 x 13 glass cooking dish and put down plastic wrap on a surface where you'll be doing the cutting - probably 2' x 3' is sufficient. Sift confectioners sugar or cornstarch over the plastic wrap.
When the temperature of the candy reaches 300 degrees, turn off the heat and stir briefly.
Pour it into the baking dish. Have something under the dish to protect the counter from heat.
Wait a minute or two, and lift the edge of the candy to see if it can be lifted to cut. When this is possible, use scissors to cut a strip, and toss it out to a waiting helper who will cut it into pieces. This really is difficult to do alone, but it's possible. Keep cutting the strips until it is finished.
If the candy in the baking dish hardens before you've finished, you can place it into the oven and heat it, but it will probably stick to the dish. I've taken out the whole piece that is leftover, melted it in another pan, and repoured it into the original baking dish. Clean-up is easy, hot water dissolves the candy.
Here are the infusions I started with:
1 cup fresh elderberries
2 slices ginger
zest from one lemon
Lemon Balm Bombe
3/4 cup freshly picked lemon balm
1/4 cup freshly picked passionflower leaves, flower, tendrils
1/4 cup blueberries
zest from one lemon
20 drops of lemon eo just before pouring into baking dish
3/4 cup freshly picked holy basil
1/4 cup dried goji berries
1/4 cup freshly picked chocolate mint
juice and zest from one orange and one lemon
1/4 cup holy basil
1/4 cup elderberry
2 slices ginger
3 rose geranium leaves
sprig of lemon thyme
sprig of rosemary
sprig of lemon verbena
1/4 cup mint
2 pods cardamom