One of my enduring happy childhood memories is watching Gene Wilder sing “Pure imagination” in the dark, sticky, dome-like movie theater south of here. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was a pivotal movie in my littlehood, and the memory of watching Gene’s crinkly blue eyes and wild hair and groovy clothes while he strolled around his garden of confections clings hard to my subconscious. Hearing him sing this song during a current television commercial brought all those memories flooding back.
My wish then was that such a place was real, where red licorice ropes dripped from trees like Spanish moss, where daffy down dillies were actually tea cups of nectar and where the murky Delta water was a river of chocolate.
Seeing that scene in the movie made me feel safe and comfortable, deep down inside somewhere, with a sense that nothing could get at me or scare me or disrupt my innocence – just me and a giant meringue and jelly-filled mushroom and a suspension of time. The movie was just like the book, only better, and I wanted to crawl through the screen and nestle inside.
After-wards, my world seemed somehow lacking. The colors were murkier, not Technicolor, and the honeysuckle flower I sipped was sweet but not what I imagined. I wanted Gene Wilder’s twinkly eyes to look down on me forever, to take me away from “all this”‘. I had forgotten this feeling, this intense longing, my wish for a safe, happy place, until I heard that song on the television. Every time I hear it now, my heart lightens and for a moment I forget reality and feel uplifted.
I had the great pleasure of meeting and talking to Gene Wilder at a screening of Young Frankenstein. I brought my beloved copy of his novel, “My French Whore” and we chatted a bit. He looked just the same, just a bit grayer and more tired, but then so are we all. It is such an odd phenomenon to feel an emotional connection to an actor who was portraying a fictional character, to a man who won’t ever remember me but whose face is burned into my synapses.
Thinking of Gene and that lovely song brought back another memory I had forgotten. My maternal grandmother didn’t do much in the kitchen, but when I came to visit her and Grandpa as a young child she would always make a point to make me a special Angels food cake. She was not much of a cook. When my mOm was a little girl she had to do most of the cooking or do without, and when Grandpa was home from the Navy he loved to cook. Grandpa taught me quite a few handy things, which I will share with you sometime. But Grandma would cook once in a while and she would make candy occasionally too. She made the most marvelous divinity for my sister, and occasionally, very occasionally, my sis would share a piece. What heaven that little bite of candy was, airy and yet chewy, filled with nuts and so sweet. I think that Grandma’s divinity is why I love Sees Candy’s nougats so much.
I well remember her bread and butter pickles and watermelon rind pickles, and how silly I thought it was that she wanted me to save her the watermelon rinds, until I had a jar of what she had put up.
When I was a little older, I apparently was asking Grandma (and everybody) how to cook things even then, and she shared a few of her recipes with me. She would send me Hallmark cards with recipe cards tucked inside, her cramped, spiky handwritten, closely covered recipe cards with things I have yet to try – peppermint sticks, Swedish fried twists, fruitcake. These recipes, a gold cross pendant and a 70’s color scheme crocheted afghan are all I have to remember Grandma by. Sadly, the secret of her divinity and pickles are lost forever but my sister and I will always have it in our memories.
I haven’t seen anything like Grandma’s Chocolate Mint Sticks any where else, and here it is, just as she wrote it, on both sides of two recipe cards.
CHOCOLATE MINT STICKS
2 oz (2 squares) unsweetened chocolate (Grandma used Baker’s chocolate)
1/4 lb (1 stick) unsalted butter
pinch of salt
1 c granulated sugar
2 oz (generous 1/2 c) walnuts, cut or broken into medium size pieces
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 c all purpose flour
Adjust a rack one-third up from the bottom of the oven. Preheat to 350 F. Butter a 9″ square cake-pan, dust it with fine breadcrumbs. Invert pan to shake out excess. This has a tendency to stick to pan; using crumbs prevents this)
Melt chocolate and butter in top of a small double-boiler over hot H2O on med-heat. Stir until smooth. Remove to of dbl boiler – set aside to cool slightly.
In small bowl of electric mixer beat eggs until foamy. Beat in salt, vanilla and sugar. Add chocolate mixture (may still be be warm) and beat to mix. On low speed, add flour, scraping bowl with rubber spatula and beating only until mixed. Stir in the nuts.
Pour mixture into prepared pan and spread it to make smooth layer. Bake for 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out.
Remove from oven. Cool in pan.
Prepare Mint Icing as follows:
2 T butter, room temp (unsalted)
1 T (or few drops or more) heavy cream
1/2 tsp peppermint extract
1 c sifted confectioners sugar
Place all ingredients in small bowl of electric mixer; beat until smooth. It should be thick mixture, not runny. Spread evently over cake in pan. Will be a thin layer.
Place in refrigerator for 5 minutes – no longer.
Prepare glaze as follows:
1 oz (1 square) unsweetened chocolate (Grandma used Baker’s chocolate)
1 T butter (unsalted)
Melt chocolate and butter in top of a small double boiler over hot H2O on medium heat – stir until smooth. Pour hot glaze onto chilled icing and quickly tilt pan in all directions to cover icing completely with glaze – very thin layer, just barely enough to cover. Don’t worry if icing shows through in small spots.
Refrigerate 1/2 hour until glaze looks dull. Cut around cake to loosen edges from pan. Cut in half and then in bars.
May freeze and then serve from freezer.
Makes 32 small bars
I will be thinking of Grandma and Gene as I nibble these, and wish I was sitting on a candy lawn with my cup of tea and the soft splashing of the chocolate waterfall nearby.