Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Roger L'Heureux learns to make Memere's Coconut Candy
Families should take advantage of special occasions to pass along traditions. A visit with our son who lives on Maryland’s beautiful Eastern Shore provided just such an opportunity. During our visit, my husband taught our son how to make Memere’s Coconut Candy, our family’s Franco-American tradition.
Memere Rose L’Heureux, of Sanford, made coconut candy as a treat for her family on holidays and special times. She knew the recipe by heart, so measurements weren’t precise. When I asked for the recipe, she gave the ingredients without measurements. Of course, as anyone who makes candy knows, it’s important to measure the ingredients. Indeed, measuring is essential to the consistency of a successful candy recipe. Consequently, our attempts to create her recipe from memory often ended in a sugar mix, but not candy. Also, it didn’t occur to me to ask Memere where she learned how to make the candy, so I wasn’t absolutely sure it was a widespread Franco-American tradition. I assumed she learned from her mother, Grand Memere Morin in Biddeford.
As an amateur collector of old cookbooks, I happened upon a 1967 Acadian recipe book where the ingredients with measurements for Christmas coconut candy was among the articles. “Quelque chose pour un Joyeux Noel: Acadian Recipes for Christmas dinners and Desserts”, published in Baton Rouge, LA, by Claitor’s Book Store. It was an unexpected find! Browsing through the spiral backed collection, I stumbled upon the recipe tucked on the bottom of page 90, from Roxie Vidrine titled “Old Fashioned Coconut Patties”. I took the old cookbook recipe to a L’Heureux family gathering to verify its authenticity. “Is this Memere’s recipe for coconut candy,” I asked?
Following some friendly debate, the family agreed on the found recipe. It was close to their recollection. My sister-in-law Louise L’Heureux of Sanford even wrote a version of the recipe based on her memory and we compared the two. They were close enough to claim an authentic Franco-American connection.. One difference between the cookbook and our family recipe is the use of coconut milk. While coconut milk was mixed with whole milk is in the Acadian print edition, Memere added just regular milk This variation was the result of the natural availability of coconut milk to the Acadians, who lived off the land in Louisiana. Obviously, coconut milk was less available to New England cooks, unless local grocery stores happened to sell the whole coconuts.
Now we have a tradition to pass along to our adult children.
Richard L'Heureux of Topsham ME with son Roger, in Centreville MD, share the stirring time(to soft ball stage) of Memere's coconut candy sugar and milk.
Our son Roger L’Heureux put on an apron to learn from dad the tradition of making Memere’s coconut candy. Father and son shared the constant stirring of the milk and sugar for approximately 6 or 7 minutes on medium high heat, until the mixture was the correct consistency to add the butter, pink food coloring, vanilla and coconut. “This is perfect,” said Dad, recalling Memere’s syrup consistency, before spooning the patties on to flat wax paper spread on the kitchen counter.
“This is what it’s supposed to look like,” affirmed Dad.
After the candy had cooled, there was a family taste test. “Oh now I remember these candies! They’re delicious,” said Roger.
They lifted the cooled candy patties off the waxed paper with a butter knife, while eating the broken pieces along the way.
Another of Memere’s loving traditions is successfully passed on to another generation.
Recipe for Memere’s Coconut Candy by Louise L’Heureux from Sanford:
1 ½ cups sugar
½ cup whole milk
1/3 cup shredded coconut
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup chopped nuts (optional)
2-3 drop of food coloring – green for Christmas, yellow for Easter, red for other times
(red food coloring turns the candy deep pink)
Cook sugar and milk until soft ball stage on medium high heat for 6-7 minutes, stirring constantly. At the time of soft ball stage, remove from heat and quickly add butter and remaining ingredients (premeasured and ready to add). Stir with a wooden spoon until think enough to spoon on wax paper. Bon appetite
Recipe book Joyeux Noel collection:
Juliana L’Heureux is a freelance writer whose articles about Maine’s Franco-American history and culture have appeared in Portland newspapers for 25 years. She serves on the Maine Franco-American Leadership Council.
Juliana and her husband Richard live in Topsham ME. Feel free to contact her at Juliana@mainewriter.com.