My Mother’s Coveted Caramels

Christmas at Grandpa and Grandma Neal’s (Kenneth and Ruby Neal) on the farm, 1950s. Warren, Joy (holding a gift–the clan drew names ahead of time), Gloria, Doris. I think I’m wearing my longed-for bobby socks!

I was vaguely aware of my mother whipping up her famous caramels every Christmas, at least until they were ready to sample. But I know that certain people, like the postman (namely Jim McMenamin–we lived 4 miles from town, gravel road) and others really looked forward to them during the 1950s and ’60s. I wish I could remember who else she rewarded with them.

When the mixture had been cooked and was just right, she stood for ages at the counter and wrapped each 3/4 inch square of deliciousness into waxed paper which she’d precut into just the right sized wrappers.

But I’ve never made it myself. If I did, I’d certainly use her recipe:

Christmas Caramels

2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups white corn syrup
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups half and half
2 teaspoons vanilla

Combine all but the vanilla in a heavy saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring very often, to 255 degrees [on a candy thermometer] or until the mixture forms a firm but not brittle ball in cold water. Add vanilla and turn into buttered pan. Cool, turn uncut on a breadboard & cut into squares and wrap each piece in waxed paper.

Shared in a local cookbook

Wrapping them meant from side to side, then twisting the ends shut.

On second thought, I think I’ll just enjoy this memory and buy caramels instead.


  1. What a wonderful memory to share!!! I love the photograph! Your mother created something wonderful all those years ago…she put a lot of love into her baking and cooking. 🙂 Love is the sweetest ingredient and the one thing that we treasure forever.

    • Thank you, Linda. She sure did! When they got married, she’d never learned to do much cooking since she was a waitress and her meals were part of the deal. Then they weren’t allowed cooking at the AF base, just to heat my formula. So she studied cookbooks, and had plenty of competition with sisters-in-law who were great cooks!

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