Homemade Maple Syrup Candy… Pioneer-Girl Style!

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Winter in New England is here and with it comes snow!

I’m not a big snow person, but my kiddos sure are, so I try to plan some fun winter activities for them that don’t always require me to be knee-deep in the white stuff. (Honestly, I don’t even own snow pants or waterproof gloves. I know, I know… I’m a poor excuse for a New Englander… but at least I order my Dunkin’ Donuts coffees iced year ’round!)

I loved the The Little House series as a little girl (and am still somewhat fascinated by the history Ingalls/Wilder family, if I’m being honest) and of course, was eager to make their signature snow candy! They actually use molasses in the book, which is funny, because I *definitely* remember it being maple syrup… is this the Mendela Effect in action? It’s okay, though, I prefer the taste of maple syrup!

Here’s the original passage from Little House in the Big Woods:

“Ma was busy all day long, cooking good things for Christmas… One morning she boiled molasses and sugar together until they made a thick syrup, and Pa brought in two pans of clean, white snow from outdoors. Laura and Mary each had a pan, and Pa and Ma showed them how to pour the dark syrup in little streams on to the snow. They made circles, and curlicues, and squiggledy things, and these hardened at once and were candy. Laura and Mary might eat one piece each, but the rest was saved for Christmas Day.”

Little House in the Big Woods, Laura Ingalls Wilder
Photo by Matthew DeVries on Pexels.com

Unfortunately, when I first attempted to make as a kid, it was in the olden days before the internet. I wasn’t able to look up an exact recipe and directions, and I knew nothing about boiling syrup or candy making. My first attempt was a disaster. If I had to guess, I probably a) used a maple syrup that wasn’t 100% pure and b) simply didn’t boil the syrup enough.

These were mistakes I didn’t intend to repeat in 2021!

So I fired up the stove and got to work, and I’ll tell you how you can do it, too!

Before you get any of your ingredients together, you’ll need to make sure there’s a snowstorm in the forecast! Once there is, leave a pan or cookie sheet outside somewhere. You’ll want it to fill up with fresh, clean snow, so make sure you don’t put your pan anywhere near your roof, trees, or too close to the road… plows may fling dirt or salt!

Once you’re confident the pan is full, grab some quality maple syrup. You’re going to want the good stuff – if it doesn’t say “100% pure” on the label, put it back!

I used a little over 1/4 of a cup of syrup. I didn’t want to make a ton of candy, but I was also concerned that boiling the syrup might reduce it, so I added a bit extra.

Don’t mind my syrup-splattered stove!

I brought the syrup to a boil over medium heat for around ten minutes. I don’t have a candy thermometer, so I had to use a different method to test whether or not the syrup was ready.

You want the syrup to be either in the “soft ball” or “hard ball” stage. To test this, periodically put a drop of your boiling syrup into a bowl of cold water. If it floats and you’re able to mould it into a soft ball with your fingers, you’re at the soft ball stage. If you can mould it into a hard ball, its the hard ball stage!

I kept my syrup on the stove even once it reached the hard ball stage. I don’t know if this was the right decision, but I was afraid if I took it off the heat it would cool down and solidify too quickly.

Next, pack down your fresh snow onto a cookie sheet and drizzle your syrup on top! Be careful here – the syrup will be HOT, HOT, HOT! Little P. said “the syrup isn’t coming off the spoon” at one point, and I stupidly assumed that meant his syrup had cooled… so I stuck my finger in it to give it a little nudge off the spoon… IT HAD NOT COOLED.

OUCH.

Anyway.

After you’ve drizzled all your maple syrup, let it sit for a minute or so to make sure it’s fully cooled, then lift your hardened candies out using a fork!

Here are our little maple candies! We didn’t get very creative or fancy with them, but I bet if you were so inclined you could make little hearts and circles… or maybe even use cookie cutters and popsicle sticks to make cute lollipops!

Since we waited for the hard ball stage, our candies were on the harder side – very sticky and crunchy! (Be careful that they don’t pull out your fillings!) If you keep your syrup at the soft ball stage, your candy will end up a little softer and chewier.

UPDATE: 24 hours later, our very hard and sticky candies have aged into something even better – a crispy yet crumbly candy that is much more forgiving on your teeth and more closely resembles the grainy maple sugar candy you might buy at the store!

If you decide to try these out, let me know how it goes! And if they don’t work out for you, you can always take some of your fresh snow, mix it up with your maple syrup, and have an ice-creamy snack!

(Of course, let’s get real for a minute – some research has shown there are trace amounts of pollution in snow, and you may get sick if you eat too much, especially if your immune system is on the weaker side… so weigh your options carefully and use your own judgement. If you do choose to indulge, don’t overdo it!)

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