Catherine Ford Gets Personal

One year: A challenge for change


with one comment

The Caramilk chocolate bar commercials are inventive and funny — the new ones featuring modern dancers dressed in flowing chocolate- and caramel-coloured robes.

But there’s no secret to how “they” get the caramel into the chocolate and every cook knows it. There’s a particular kind of fondant that when made, cools into a moldable solid. Only when it is removed from the air, that is, when it is dipped in chocolate, does it liquefy. It’s the not-so-secret “secret” of the Caramilk bar and such candies as that tooth-grindingly sweet concoction of a cherry suspended in liquid with a chocolate casing . You could probably make a Caramilk bar yourself, with the aid of the Joy of Cooking recipe, although that isn’t nearly as much fun as the speculation about how it is done.

Chocolate being one of the four main food groups — the other three being all fruit except bananas, Scotch whisky and toasted sesame seed bagels — it behooves we chocoholics to pay attention to the distinctions in flavour, mouth feel, lingering notes of sweetness and the depth of “chocolateness” in the various commercial varieties. To do so obviously requires lots of test-tasting, strictly for the purposes of research.

After years of practice, like having a favorite Scotch, I have ranked the Caramik bar second in quality and favouriteness to the distinctly Canadian chocolate bar known as Coffee Crisp, first marketed in 1938. What makes the Caramilk worth a silver medal is all that runny, yummy caramel. It’s like manna. Still, my first love is Coffee Crisp, maybe because its flavour makes me remember fondly my Saskatchewan cousins, Christina, Michael and Catherine Price who lived on a farm at the edge of Deslisle with their parents, Jim and Katy (yes, another Catherine — there are five in my extended family).

I first encountered a Coffee Crisp bar (price 10 cents) in the small town which is 40 kilometres southwest of Saskatoon at the intersection of Highways 7 and 45. Even on a good day there was precious little for teenagers to do in a town that even today has less than 1,000 residents.

Being a teenager living next to a small town must have been torture when one couldn’t curl or skate, this being long before anyone thought of or could afford year-round winter activities. These were also the days before regimented plans for children’s every activity. Short of a pick-up softball game or a game of tennis on the cracked and weed-filled surface of the town’s only tennis court, walking the main street was the height of activity in the summer months.

There was a local hotel and, thus, a tavern, but it offered no possibilities for teens when the drinking age was 21. And there were stores on both sides of main street, enough to keep the town alive. And in one of those stores I discovered Coffee Crisp, introduced by Christina. She and I would walk back to her house happily munching. Why it was Christina, at least six years older than me and not her sister Catherine who was much closer in age — only two years older than I was — was simple. Both Michael and Catherine had juvenile diabetes and such treats were forbidden them.

(As an aside, if anyone questions what kind of strides have been made in the treatment of childhood diseases, consider that people with childhood-onset diabetes today live much easier—and longer lives. Michael died many years ago at 50 and Catherine died about five years ago at age 62.)

It can’t have been easy for both of them to watch their sister and me eat whatever we wanted whenever we wanted to.

Deslisle is no longer the dry and dusty town I remember, even though it had already achieved some sort of recognition when I first went to visit my cousins, being the home town of the hockey-playing Bentley brothers, Max, Doug and Reg, although Reg would not enjoy the fame or longevity his two younger brothers did. Still, while all three were playing for the Chicago Black Hawks the brothers made hockey history on New Year’s Day, 1943 when Reg scored his only NHL goal, assisted by both of his brothers, still a unique event. The brothers were, says my sports-loving husband “small, sleek and fast,” and then added “and shifty.” Ted proceeded to rattle off the top of his head their call-up to the Black Hawks and their famous line with Bill Mosienko, called “the pony line” by sports writers.

(My theory — which Ted pooh-poohed — is that the sobriquet came because Bill’s last name was pronounced ‘mosey-enko’ and “mosey” was what cowboys did riding the range on their ponies. Well, it sounded logical to me, but I’m not privy to the kind of thinking that gives everything a nickname, that habit having not quite died out in modern journalism.)

Whatever, the Bentley brothers (the entire family consisted of 13 children, six boy and seven girls, Max and Doug being the youngest) remain Delisle’s most famous home-town heroes, with the two being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1966.

Deslisle also had its moment in Hollywood history when Paperback Hero, starring Keir Dullea was filmed there in 1973.

But in the late 1950s it was, and I am being charitable here, little more than a dry crossroads not worth stopping on one’s way through the province, and a crushing bore to a teenager.

The unique taste of a Coffee Crisp bar always brings back memories of the Prices and how Aunt Katy would bake bread and then slather it, still warm from the oven with homemade jam for us kids as we sat at the kitchen table playing cards.

It’s not quite the same kind of memories that were evoked in Marcel Proust when he was eating a madeleine, but those kind of memories are powerful. Proust wrote: “Taste and smell alone, more fragile but more enduring… remain poised a long time… and bear… in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.” It was from a taste of a piece of madeleine that all the volumes of his monumental novel, “a la recherche du temps perdu” known in English as In Search of Lost Time evolved.

I guess the bronze medal (the Olympics being much on my mind and on my television these days, albeit little of the coverage features we Canadians) in the world of candyland has to go to the combination of caramel, chocolate and pecans known as Turtles.

If you wanted to be in my mother’s good graces, you appeared at Christmastime bearing a box of Turtles, (Their competition, Almondillos, with the chunky shape of an armadillo, never made any headway in the Ford household.)

One year, in an attempt to keep the box of Turtles away from her two greedy daughters, Clint not having been born yet, she hid the box in the warming drawer of the oven, secure in the knowledge than neither Susan nor I (ages 5 and 11 respectively) would be cooking anything in the oven. What she hadn’t courted on was Dad who never to my knowledge ever cooked a meal other than barbecuing steak, taking it in his head to turn the oven on to 350 degrees for some inexplicable reason. Mother screeched when she discovered this and ran to rescue her box of chocolates. When she opened the toasty-warm pink box, she was sure her Turtles had melted into a shapeless lump of nuts and chocolate. Instead she found only some warm ruffled paper cups each of which had once cradled a single Turtle. We knew she would eventually discover that Susan and I had found her hiding pace and systematically over the next day or so had “liberated” all the chocolates. Instead of being angry, she collapsed in helpless laughter holding the two halves of the now-empty box.

Even all these years later, Turtles are still a once-a-year fixture in Susan’s house at Christmas and it’s our now-52-year-old brother who scarfs the majority.

Chocolates and candy were always a luxury in our house, regarded as an unnecessary expense by our mother except on special occasions, given that our father’s sweet tooth was almost non-existent

As kids, we waited each year for the appearance of the gumdrop tree with the rest of the Christmas decorations. It was nothing more elaborate that two pieces of plastic in the shape of a bare, many-branched tree. On each point, Mother would impale a single gumdrop until it was completely covered. It must have cost no more than $1 plus a bag of gumdrops each year, but it gave us a million dollars worth of pleasure, especially when Susan and I would filch a gumdrop or two, believing as only children can, that Mother would never notice the increasing number of bare limbs on the “tree.”

I don’t think I’ve had a gumdrop or a Turtle in years. But it didn’t take much – liker Proust’s mouthful of cake — to bring back memories when I met the Caramac, Maui’s equivalent to the Turtle, made of the same caramel and chocolate and instead of pecans, macadamia nuts.

Susan’s enthusiasm for Maui’s Caramacs doesn’t quite reach the level of mine (she and her husband, Harry, are here on Maui, too) but those little mouthfuls are way too tasty to be left out in public. So, when a friend brought over a box, I immediately buried it in the refrigerator freezer. Turns out they taste even better when frozen solid.

I’m doomed.

NEXT: Too much food; too much liquor; no scales in sight.


Written by Catherine Ford

February 16, 2010 at 6:42 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Your timing is perfect (or not) as Lent begins today, I have given up chocolate and as an added penitence – sweetened consensed milk.

    Jennifer Diakiw

    February 18, 2010 at 12:53 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: