We are third- and fourth-generation French-Canadian caramel makers.
What started as a family tradition has slowly blossomed into something just a little bit more. For nearly 100 years our family has been making caramel at the holidays, but around 35 years ago, the third generation took things to a new level.
It started with just one or two batches. Using a recipe handed down from my great Grandmother, my mother, Jackie, would make a batch or two just before my sister’s birthday in December. She would invite her whole family over for a ‘birthday party’ but out would come the uncut caramel and everyone would chip in and help cut and wrap. After a few years of this the family realized they’d been hoodwinked. “HEY! WE WANT IN!!” and the ‘birthday party’ turned into a ‘caramel fest’. Everyone would bring their ingredients and over the course of a couple days, many batches would be made, cut, then wrapped. They were evenings filled with Christmas music, candles, and perhaps a drink or two. There have been more than a few discussions on whether we should twist the wrappers or fold them, which pans work better, does gas or electric heat make a difference, which thermometer is more accurate… the year we stopped cutting our own wax paper wrappers and used factory-made candy wrappers was rather controversial – half preferred the old way, half the new – we’re pretty stuck on tradition! (Consequently, we kept the new wrappers – do you know how much time it takes to cut 6000 pieces of wax paper??)
There was (and still is) only one rule, and that was nobody could ever give away the recipe. You were only allowed “in” through marriage. If you were an outsider, you might be allowed to stir. Maybe.
The family has grown, we kids have kids of our own now, and even MORE caramels are needed at the holidays. The caramel-fest lasts about a week. There are “shifts” to get through it all, but it’s usually poor Uncle Tommy who is tasked with the job of cutting nearly the entire lot! It’s a whole lot of work, but we have a whole lot of fun doing it, and it’s just not Christmas without this crazy tradition of ours.