Hard Tack Die-Hards


“What did the volcano say to the earthquake?” My dad’s joke hung over the table as we stopped cutting candy and readied ourselves for his punch line. “It’s not my fault.” A groaner response came back at him as he’d expected. He grinned and shuffled back toward the kitchen.
Dad’s occasional jokes have been a part of candy making for at least as long as I’ve been helping. My short history with the project is nothing, measured against the 40-plus years that our church has been making and selling hard tack candy at Christmas time.
“What happened when the wheel was invented?” Dad was at it again on his way past the weighing table where the hard candy pieces are tossed with powdered sugar before they are weighed and bagged. Came the response, “There was a revolution.”
Early on, a few women of the church met at one of their homes to make the confection, but, for the last 20 years or so, for four or five Mondays before Christmas, the fragrant blend of spices fills our church, wafting outside to passersby and infiltrating the candy makers’ clothes.
“Will you take my hoody with you?” asks my teenage daughter before the second week’s session this year. “I want to wear that wonderful smell to school.”
I hung her sweatshirt on the coat rack and Mark and I found places with other candy cutters at a long table just across from the pass-through kitchen window where cookie tins of hot candy goo are passed to us cutters to deal with as quickly as possible.
Here comes Dad again, taking a break from his mixing. “If April showers bring May flowers, what do May flowers bring?”
“You tell us, Ray,” we’re all thinking. With a smug grin he says, “Pilgrims.” and away he goes back to the kitchen. Silly, but it does help take our minds off our burning finger-tips and the wrenching bite of the scissors when we cut through a batch that’s become almost too hard to cut.
Dad began helping make candy more than 20 years ago after he retired. Early on, when he complained about burning his fingers on the hot candy, Bernice said, “We’ll solve that problem; we’ll let you mix in the kitchen.”
Bernice Mason, who is the mainstay of the event, oversees the hot stove, watching a dozen or so pots at once, timing the batches, then adding the colors and flavorings. More than one comment was made that fewer batches were burned this year than in several years back. Remarkable!
“How do you communicate with a fish?” queries Dad. “Drop him a line.”
We usually make between 150 – 200 pounds of candy by noon (about a thousand pounds a year)

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