19. Make family recipes.
Aunt Ada’s Caramels
She was my Great Aunt, my mother’s father’s sister. Regardless of whether they were related or not, everyone knew her as ‘Aunt Ada’. She was married to a man named Abb. They never had any children of their own, but it seemed they took their parenting instincts and focused them on everyone in their lives.
She was one of those souls that cared for everyone. When you talked to her you knew she was listening. She stayed sweet, sensitive, independent, funny, and fun-loving as long as I knew her. Children loved her.
Fun loving she was. Never failing to make us laugh. One winter my mom’s family (grandparents, aunt and uncle, and cousins) were on vacation in Sarasota, Florida. Aunt Ada, along with my grandparents and a few cousins were at my grandparents vacation rental playing a game of UNO. The rest of us where away, at the beach or getting ice cream. Grandpa had bought a key lime pie and their group was devouring it. By the time we arrived back at the cottage there was only a piece or two left over. Realizing that they would have to share it with us if we saw it they quickly searched for a way to hide it just as we were walking in the door. Aunt Ada grabbed it off of the table and set it under the table on her lap, planning to hide it until we weren’t looking. Obviously she overlooked the fact that the table top was glass and we could see right through the table to the pie resting on her legs. We scolded them for their selfishness, had a good laugh, then ate all the pie.
Life was not always easy for Aunt Ada. She was childless (in Amish culture this is perhaps a bigger deal than in mainstream American culture), a widow for nearly 30 years, and she struggled with depression. I’m told she wasn’t always so happy but that is not the Aunt Ada I knew. The legacy that she left for me was one of caring for people, aging gracefully, and embracing life.
And caramels. A very important part of her legacy.
She was famous for her caramels. If she came for a visit and didn’t bring caramels everyone was disappointed, but she rarely forgot. Whenever I eat a soft, buttery, melt-in-your-mouth caramel it brings with it so many memories of her beautiful life.
Aunt Ada’s Caramels
1 lb. light brown sugar
1/2 lb. butter
1 C. Karo
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1/4 tsp. cream of tarter
pinch of salt
1 tsp. vanilla
Melt butter in kettle. (Aunt Ada uses a non-stick pampered chef kettle.) Add brown sugar, karo, salt, and cream of tarter. Stir well. Add sweetened condensed milk. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly to avoid scorching. Continue to boil and stir until candy thermometer reaches 250* F. Immediately remove from heat. Add vanilla and stir well. Pour into greased bar pan. Set aside to cool. When cool, cut into bite sized pieces with a knife or scissors. Wrap in 4″x 4″ waxed paper squares. (after wrapping Aunt Ada refrigerated her’s to keep them from being too sticky.) If you do not bring the temperature high enough you will have a very sticky, hard to handle candy. If you cook it too long it will get hard.