Coffee Klatsch, Cuisine, Memories, Occasions, Stearns

Only At Christmas

No one ever fought over the ribbon candy.

Mom bought a box every Christmas because she liked it. And it was Dad’s favorite. Maybe it was one thing they shared that seven sweet-toothed kids didn’t swarm and devour.

He died too young, the first of his 17 siblings to pass away. Then ribbon candy became Mom’s annual tradition.

Ribbon candy was festive. Traditional. Pretty, nestled in its white protective packaging.

I liked to look at ribbon candy, so thin and kind of miraculous: how did they make it, and how did this fragile product survive its journey to the Midwest?

It wasn’t until I was older that I actually tried ribbon candy, crumbling its sugary bones between my tongue and the roof of my mouth.

And unlike others, who mostly preferred chocolate covered cherries or foil-wrapped Santas and bells, I found it good.

Ribbon candy is a Christmas treat that goes back centuries in Europe.

It’s thought that confectioners developed it as a festive decoration for their shops, shaping the wavy form around their fingers.

In the 1800s mechanical crimpers were invented to simulate the furls that were once handcrafted. As demand increased, faster manufacturing processes evolved; some of this equipment is still in use today.

Making ribbon candy is an old art though, and some companies still do it all by hand.

I have yet to find ribbon candy in New Zealand.

But when I see it for sale online I think of my mother, and the yearly box of spice, mint, fruit and cinnamon-flavored candy only she and I seemed to like.

I have no interest in modern year-round flavors like sour apple, s’more, or cotton candy.

For me it’s a Christmas thing: memories and festive smells and gentle crunching in the glow of twinkling tree lights.

With a glass of Mom’s brandy slush and some salted nuts at my elbow, watching the original Frosty the Snowman cartoon or listening to Johnny Mathis’s Sleigh Bells.

Wisconsin Brandy Slush Recipe

I’ll share Mom’s Minnesota recipe once I find it.

Meanwhile, it appears Wisconsin is the true home of brandy slush.

Let’s give this this crown to our cousins next door; based on Google hits, they’ve earned it.

Mom made hers in a five quart Kemps ice cream pail. To share, of course.

For me brandy slush is a Christmas cocktail. Others in Stearns County make it anytime.

Mom mixed 7-Up and ginger ale into the slush mix, not adding this once a potent scoop of slush was in the glass as Wisconsin folks do.

I like mine in a chunky crystal tumbler, sufficiently melted so it’s slushy not icy.

We used to drink this on Christmas Eve before midnight mass and then again on Christmas Day.

I think of my mother whenever I have brandy or read about brandy or see the word brandy. I think of the winter night we attended a relative’s anniversary celebration at a dance hall and Mom had too much brandy.

On the drive home she created a brandy-inspired song, Semis In the Sky, an homage to the brightly lit trucks whooshing along the overpasses above us.

Her song never made it onto commercial airwaves, in fact it never made it outside the car that night. But hey, it’s been a hit with me all these years.

Mom loved brandy.

And so do I.

And maybe so do you.

9 cups water
2 cups white sugar
4 black or flavored tea bags
1 (12oz) can frozen lemonade
1 (12oz) can frozen orange juice
1 -1/2 to 3 cups of brandy, to taste
Ice cream pail with cover

Place water and sugar into a pot and bring to a boil. Remove from heat. Place tea bags into the mixture and steep for 5-10 minutes, then remove. Add frozen lemonade and OJ. Mix well and set aside to cool. Then add brandy to taste. Stir and pour into ice cream bucket. Freeze for 24-48 hours; stir a few times during the freezing process to break up the mixture.

Use an ice cream scoop to half fill glasses with slush mixture, topping up with 7-Up and or ginger ale and or Squirt. Stir, adding fruit or holiday garnishes if you wish. Try flavored brandies for variety.

Old Fashioned Ribbon Candy Recipe

The beautiful shape and coloring of this classic candy might give the impression that you can’t make it at home.

But nothing could be farther from the truth, says Elizabeth at

She says ribbon candy starts the way many hard candies do, with a simple sugar syrup. After boiling the sugar, the candy is pulled (like taffy or candy canes), then colored and flavored. Pulling candies can be tricky, so be prepared to have some ‘special’ ribbons on your first attempt. Check out the step-by-step photo instructions showing how to pull candy. Or watch the experts in our YouTube video!

  • Cooking spray
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 4 drops green food coloring, more or less
  • 4 drops red food coloring, more or less

Gather the ingredients. Prepare four cookie sheets by spraying them with nonstick cooking spray or covering them with a light layer of oil. Preheat oven to 200 F. Combine sugar, corn syrup, and water in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring continuously, until sugar dissolves. Insert a candy thermometer and continue cooking without stirring until candy reaches 285 F (soft-crack stage). Once the proper temperature is reached, remove candy from heat immediately and stir in peppermint extract.

Pour 1/3 of the mixture onto a prepared cookie sheet and place it in the heated oven to stay warm. Pour another 1/3 onto a second sheet and sprinkle green food coloring on top. Place this sheet in the oven as well. Add red food coloring to remaining 1/3 of candy. Pour candy out onto a marble slab or heat-safe cutting board. Allow it to sit briefly until it forms a skin.

Spray a bench scraper or heat-safe spatula with nonstick cooking spray, and use the tool to begin spreading candy out and pushing it back together, working it across the board and allowing it to cool. Don’t forget to check out the instructions showing how to pull candy if you get confused about the process.

As soon as the candy is cool enough to handle, but still quite hot, begin to pull it. If you have plastic gloves, put them on and spray the gloves with nonstick cooking spray — this will help prevent overheated or burned hands. Take candy in both hands and pull hands in opposite directions, stretching candy into a long rope. Bring ends of strands together and twist candy into a rope. Then pull rope out into a long strand. Continue to twist and pull candy until it has a satin-like finish and is an opaque red color. Once candy is still pliable, but barely warm, pull it into a strand about 2 inches thick, and place it on remaining prepared baking sheet. Put this sheet back into oven, and remove baking sheet with uncolored candy syrup. The pulled candy will remain pliable in the warm oven while you work the second portion.

Repeat pulling procedure with the second, uncolored portion of candy. In the end, candy should be a pearly white color. Form into a log 2 inches in diameter, just like the red candy.

Repeat pulling procedure with last, green portion of candy. In the end, candy should be an opaque and satiny green color. Form into a log 2 inches in diameter.

Remove candies from oven. Cut a 5-inch segment from each of the green, white, and red logs, and place them next to each other on fourth greased cookie sheet, with the white in the middle. Begin to pull candies together, gently molding them together as candy gets thinner. Try to end up with a very thin piece of tri-colored candy 1-inch in height.

Once twisted candy is the shape you want, use oiled kitchen shears to cut them to into approximately 6- to 8-inch lengths. Immediately push them into a ribbon shape and place them on a baking sheet to set at room temperature.

Repeat pulling and cutting with remaining candy.

If candy gets too hard to pull, place in the warm oven for a few minutes to soften, but don’t let it sit too long and melt.

The ribbons will get very hard at room temperature, but if left out for long periods of time they will get soft and sticky, so be sure to wrap them in cellophane once set.

Classic Craft

There are companies in the USA that still make Christmas ribbon candy by hand.

You may enjoy watching the guys at Hercules Candies in Syracuse, New York make theirs from scratch.

Their nimble ribbon shaping tricks are worth knowing if you plan to try this at home.

Observing their banter, they could be Minnesotan.

Stearns Countian.


Oh ja.

2 thoughts on “Only At Christmas”

  1. Lois Thielen says:

    There is a TV show called Small Town Big Deal that travels all over the country doing human interest stories and several years ago they did a story on a U. S. company that made ribbon candy. See if you can find that online.

    1. Editor says:

      I will! Watching the Hercules Candies team it all looks so labor intensive. We need to support these little companies. Let’s order ribbon candy rather than make it 🙂

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