ThreadsRecently, a glorious collection of blue wooden-spooled threads came to enliven my sewing stash, the gracious gift of a fellow thinning-the-herd family member. Over the years I’ve not done a lot of sewing with blues other than denim or navy so my selection of blues was, to say the least, slender. One of my new old threads was the perfect match for sewing the “love my honey” quilt binding. Sweet! Another sweet encounter not long ago lead to an unspooling of memory threads across at least six decades and a few continents.

A new friend was born in Taiwan, raised in New Zealand and came to America as part of a faith-based mission organization. She eventually settled, worked, married and began a family here in the Triangle. We met at church and attend a weekly women’s Bible study together. It is our sweet fortune that she frequently brings elegantly handmade cookies and candy for a mid-morning temptation. A recent offering was a perfectly marcelled (sorry, couldn’t resist using this word…think Downton Abbey hair styles) chocolate hazelnut square. Unfortunately, hazelnut it not one of my favorite flavors so declining wasn’t a deprivation.

But if it had been English toffee…aw, what a hot sugar-boiled thread of memory that aroused. Out the back gate, down the alley, passed the ancient walnut tree lived Grammy Claire, the closest thing I had to a nearby grandma. The Christmas season wasn’t complete without an ulterior-motive visit to her tiny kitchen where great slabs of caramelized sugar topped with melting chocolate, dusted with ground walnuts, firmed on long sheets of waxed paper, waiting to be broken apart and packaged as gifts of the season. Every year I fantasized about throwing myself under the bus volunteering to be her official taster, but I was better behaved in those days. Anyway, that job belonged to her stone-deaf husband Maurice who, to my great shuddering amazement, ate ice cream topped with gravy. I mean, who can top that? His credentials were so much better than mine.

Nevertheless, my antique threads of memory remember this unparalleled confection being actually months in the making. Come harvest moons and the good-natured haunting of Halloween, the green hulls of Grammy’s walnuts would begin to split, the nuts falling to the ground. On occasion, I’d help gather the fallen nuts, spreading them out on canvas camp cots parked in her drive way. Over time the hulls would wither and pull away from the hard shells. I vividly remember Grammy’s hands richly black with walnut oil after husking each year’s crop. The cracked shells released their nutmeats; the pristine halves set aside, the fragments ground for various cookie recipes and my beloved English toffee.

Such a tightly wound part of my past, yet once the spool began unwinding, rolling across the grand hall of my memory, it didn’t take long to find a recipe on the internet…a soon-to-be, ulterior-motive gift for my friend who has never heard of English toffee. Not being as well behaved these days, I will volunteer to be her taster!

What aromas, tastes, relationships are threaded together in your memory of foods, family and friends? How do those memories occasionally unspool in your current life? If you were to gift a friend with a beloved ulterior-motive recipe, what would it be?

3 comments to Threads

  • Luisa

    Ahh! What a torturous topic to tempt us before breakfast! (like a little alliteration?)
    Dear Lynne,
    God’s gift this week was a note from an 8th grade friend announcing that there was a “secret” FB group for the 8th grade class of our parochial school in Connecticut. They are planning a 50th year reunion this Fall. Wish I could go!
    Several members inquired if I had the recipe for my mother, Emma’s, home made pizza! She was renown for this teenage addiction! On occasion, Mamma would generously surprise us with this delicacy at slumber parties at 2am hoping we would be stunned into satiated silence. And there wad a time where she appeared with some post-exam consolation via serotonin boosting protein and carbs. No one knew what a “carb” was back then…or cared!
    Facebook and pizza….that was my recent memory spool. Wish SHE knew how to make toffee too.
    Bless you, Lynne!

  • Lori

    Hi Lynne,

    Here’s the recipe for John’s grandmother’s english toffee… enjoy!

    English Toffee

    2.5 c granulated sugar
    1 pound butter
    2 T Karo (light) syrup
    1 c slivered almonds (blanched, cut into quarters lengthwise), warmed in oven
    1 pound milk chocolate
    1(?) T Crisco
    1 c ground almonds, toasted in oven

    Cook sugar, butter and Karo syrup in large skillet to 235º, stirring constantly. Add warmed slivered almonds and cook to 295º, stirring rapidly all the time.

    Pour into 9.5″ x 13″ cookie sheet with sides and let cool. Melt half the chocolate with half of the Crisco. When toffee is cold, cover with melted chocolate and sprinkle with half of the toasted ground almonds. When cold, turn candy over on wax paper and cover with rest of chocolate/crisco and nuts.

    When cold, cut into pieces using a sharp, long cutting knife and giving it a sharp blow with a hammer (it may be soft enough to be cut/broken up with your hands.)

  • Karen Mauro

    What aromas, tastes, relationships are threaded together in your memory of foods, family and friends? How do those memories occasionally unspool in your current life? If you were to gift a friend with a beloved ulterior-motive recipe, what would it be?

    Dear Lynne,
    A fond memory of food that I have is an annual one that began just a few years ago. Rick enjoys spending a day making a favorite dish that his mom made when he was a boy. It’s a “Galumkie” recipe that grandma Mauro learned from great grandma Pacovsky. This dish is very similar to the stuffed cabbage rolls I’ve made, just a lot more elaborate. While making the Galumpkies, I often hear Rick consulting over the phone with one of his brothers about which spices to go lightly on and which ones he can be more liberal with. When Rick makes this dish he makes enough to freeze so that the brothers can enjoy it when they are visiting here during various hunting seasons. During the meals that we’re eating the Galumpkies, I get to hear so many fond memories that the brothers had while growing up in Pennsylvania.


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