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Sometimes, Reddit is where I learn about cool new things (I am an old millennial so it's not going to happen of its own accord); but other times, I see something on Reddit that takes me back to my childhood. So, it was the other day when I spotted a post about making old-fashioned "snow candy" start to gain traction. I remembered pouring maple syrup onto snow as a kid when we were studying Native American history in school. Homework — what a glorious excuse to eat sweets! Early European colonizers learned how to make this snow candy (and access maple syrup in the first place) from Indigenous tribes, so it's a treat even older than the concept of "America" itself.
It came up again when I fell in love, as so many little girls have before and since, with Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House" series. In "Little House in the Big Woods," which takes place in 1871, Wilder describes a dreamy scene from her childhood: “Grandma stood by the brass kettle and with the big wooden spoon she poured hot syrup on each plate of snow. It cooled into soft candy, and as fast as it cooled they ate it."
I grew up in Manhattan, far from prairies of any kind, but kids are kids no matter where they are, and the other main selling point here was its questionable nutritional assertion: "They could eat all they wanted, for maple sugar never hurt anybody.”
At the risk of being a huge wet blanket, it seems like a good time to point out that burning hot maple syrup can very much hurt you, and also that unlimited quantities of sugar are not what most parents would consider harmless these days — but, I digress. It was a very snowy winter in much of the country and I was surrounded by fresh snow as I saw the Reddit post. It felt like fate. I had to make it.
I read a few different accounts before embarking on my own maple-syrup–candy journey. The Reddit post cautions that if you don't pack the snow down firmly, you will get a maple-flavored slushy, which reminded me of the snow ice cream Jenna Bush Hager recently made with her kids. But that's not what we're going for: We want a hardy, chewy candy.
NBC News' Health and Nutrition editor Madelyn Fernstrom advised it's best to do this with freshly fallen snow that hasn't been plowed or otherwise touched, so I walked onto the porch with a cereal bowl and packed a big snowball into it as firmly as I could. I popped it in the freezer while I boiled some maple syrup. Most of the recipes I saw online said to heat the syrup until it reaches 235 F, but I didn't have a candy thermometer, so I just let it reduce until it smelled deeply fragrant, like a really rich toffee caramel. Then I poured it over my snowball and watched in awe as syrup froze around the snow like it was trapped in amber. It hardens pretty quickly, and then you get to do the most fun part of all: Crack open the shell like a Kinder Egg.
I sprinkled some Maldon Sea Salt Flakes on top and marched around the house proudly offering shards of maple syrup candy to my family, who didn't really get it. They chewed slowly, complaining it was sticking to their teeth, and I realized perhaps this is best done with kids because they are more likely not to have crowns. The marvelous, buttery, toasted sugar flavor is easier to enjoy if you resist the urge to chew.
"My mouth is … stuck? I'm worried it will … always be this way? Oh, wait … I think it's melting," they mumbled through clenched jaws. "How come you didn't warn me?"
I brushed off their negativity. A small price to pay for nostalgia, I said, though I had to convey my response through hand gestures. My teeth, too, were glued shut.