Wednesday, April 23, 2014
The Buck family home in Mapleton, Maine - potato country.
It all started with Felicia Buck’s cinnamon rolls. In early October I had spent the better part of a day in Felicia’s kitchen getting to know her and watching her make those soul-soothing rolls. When she mentioned her annual holiday cooking session with her friends I was in.
For the past four years, Felicia has opened up her home to a few longtime friends and neighbors for a day of candy making. We usually start around 9 a.m. and end around 4 p.m. she said. Then Felicia told me we would be making chocolate and peanut butter fudge, peanut butter cups, chex mix, caramel popcorn, turtles, 100 grand bars, hard cinnamon, clove, spearmint candy and more. I returned to Aroostook County to see this sugarfest for myself, and as I drove on near empty snow-covered roads, found the old white farmhouse with an antique sleigh with ice skates and a red ribbon on the front porch, and knew I was in the right place.
Felicia is married to Brent Buck, a 2nd generation potato farmer who has run Buck Farms with his two brothers since 1998. They live in Mapleton in the heart of Maine’s potato country. During planting and harvest Felicia, and at times her mother and sister-in-law provide baked treats for coffee break to everyone working for Buck Farms. Felicia grew up watching her mother, father, and grandmother cook. When she got married her grandmother handwrote all her recipes on index cards and gave them to Felicia telling her, “You remember, you’re a Hubbard, and when you’re a Hubbard you gotta know how to cook.”
Growing up Felicia’s father hated Christmas. “He loved the music and cooking,” she said. “He hated giving gifts, decorating, shopping, and did not want to do Christmas cards. He grew up very poor, so they did not have a lot and Christmas didn’t mean the same when you could not give gifts.” Her mother loved Christmas, and because Felicia’s father liked the food part, Felicia said her mother always made sure there were all kinds of treats. “If there was a school thing we’d make the sugar cookies, the hard candy, go around caroling and deliver food to the neighbors,” she said. “Now a days people don’t do that as much.”
As a child, Felicia said the holiday sugar cookies she made and decorated with her mother was such an in depth project they used paint brushes to paint every detail of the cookies with the colored frosting. Felicia still takes food to the elderly for the holidays and makes gingerbread people every year with her three daughters, but keeps the decorating simple.
The candies cool in the unheated garage.
Felicia's homemade lunch.
With the help of her friends Darcey, Kelly, Bethany, and Heather she has created a new holiday tradition making irresistible treats. The first year Felicia invited everyone over to her home to learn how to make a few candies they had never made before. Those were a success, so the group stuck with those recipes. By keeping with the same recipes, the women all know which ones their families like. That is not to say Felicia will not mix it up a little bit, like she did this year adding treats made by warming Hershey kisses on pretzels and then putting M&Ms in them. Turns out these bite-size confections are not only really easy to make, they are one of the best-tasting candies I’ve ever had.
Organizing the day is pretty simple. Felicia gives a list to everyone of what they are going to make and provides a list of items to bring. The women then message each other on Facebook so everyone knows who is bringing what. The event always takes place at Felicia’s, because she said she has so many pots and pans.
As the variety of candies boil and bake, the women chat about everything from movies they love to watch this time of year to the competitive prices of items such as flour at area supermarkets. This latter issue is somewhat of an important one when taking into consideration some of the mothers are baking 30 dozen cookies a week for their son or daughter’s sports team.
Midway through the day Brent arrives home for a homemade lunch served hot. Brent spends this time of year on equipment repairs and his duties as an elected leader of the National Potato Council. He approves of the peanut butter cups, Felicia’s sweet tea is poured, and everyone sits down to chicken soup and Felicia’s homemade rolls. The wind is picking up outside blowing light snow over the frozen landscape. Though the winter months are long in Maine’s Aroostook County I am left thinking the people I have met there do not have a sense of isolation. Rather, they – friends, family, and neighbors – are brought together by cooking traditions. Whether Saturday night bean suppers, Saturday night chowder nights, a cast iron cook off, or a holiday cooking party like this one.
Following are a few recipes from the day of cooking. Check back on The Root Thursday to learn how to make peanut butter cups (Felicia’s favorite) and hard candy.
Mixing with bowls causes less cereal breakage.
Adding butter to the mix.
Scrable (homemade Chex mix) from the kitchen of Mother Hubbard
1 box each – Wheat Chex, Rice Chex, Corn Chex, Cheerios, Kix
1 bag pretzels
1 container mixed nuts and peanuts
1 ½ tsp each – garlic salt, onion salt, seasoned salt, celery salt
½ lb. butter
1 cup safflower oil (all Felicia uses)
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
Mix dry cereal, pretzels, and nuts. Melt butter, add seasoning, oil, and Worcestershire sauce. Felicia’s tip – use big bowls to mix the cereal, pretzels, and nuts together so you do not crush the cereal. Bake at 250 for two hours stirring every 15 minutes.
12 ounces (or smaller bag) of unwrapped soft caramels, cut in half
6 oz (about 1.5 cups) toasted pecan halves
5 ounce bag Hershey Kisses
Cover a cookie sheet with aluminum foil. Place pecan halves flat side down in rows. Place one (half) piece caramel on each. Cook six minutes at 350. Remove from oven and immediately place a Hershey Kiss on top of each. Let cool.
No Fail Chocolate Fudge from Felicia’s friend Heidi Currier who got it from a member of her church – Felicia’s daughters’ favorite holiday treat.
2/3 cup evaporated milk
2 Tbsp butter
1 2/3 cup sugar – Felicia prefers Domino vs. store brands
½ tsp salt
2 cups marshmallows
1 ½ cup semi-sweet chocolate bits
½ cup nuts
Mix evaporated milk, butter, sugar, and salt in sauce pan and let boil for 4-5 minutes, stirring constantly. Take away from the heat and add marshmallows. Stir until melted and then add chocolate bits and add nuts. Pour into 8 inch greased pan. Put in fridge to harden so you can cut up. Will keep 2-3 weeks covered in fridge.Tweet
Sharon Kitchens is a neo-homesteader learning the ins and outs of country living by luck and pluck and a lot of expert advice. She writes about bees for The Huffington Post and stuff she loves on her personal blog, deliciousmusings.com.
When she is not writing, she enjoys edible gardening, reading books on food and/or thinking about food, hanging out by her beehives and patiently tracking down her chickens in the woods behind her old farmhouse.
In her blog, Sharon profiles farm families, reports on farm-based education and internships, conducts Q&A's with master beekeepers, offers tips on picking a CSA, and much more.