Christmas preparations began early with the centrepiece of the meal – a turkey or a pork roast – raised on the farm. The pigs and poultry were butchered in November once the days dipped below zero since there was no freezer but the great outdoors. Many are the accounts of a farm wife keeping one turkey for her family and taking the remainder into town to trade at the general store for holiday baking supplies such as nuts, spices, candied peel (for the fruitcake) and white sugar. Fruitcakes were made in mid-November so they could "mature" before Christmas dinner, and a great variety of cookies were baked in advance and kept frozen for special meals.
However, when times were tough, as they were many years, Christmas was not always celebrated in fine style. Years later, Fred Baines recalled the first Christmases his family spent on the prairie after immigrating from England: "We did not celebrate in those days, but I remember, my mother cried at the poor dinner we had."
My grandma's recipe card for fudge is stained and well used, and the taste transports me back to the warmth and fragrance of her kitchen at Christmas time.
Maisie's Maple Cream Fudge
3 cups brown sugar
1 tbsp flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp butter
2/3 cup light cream
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup walnuts (optional)
In a saucepan, mix all ingredients except vanilla and nuts. Heat on medium, stirring now and then, until sugar is dissolved. Continue heating on medium until the mixture comes to a full boil, stirring infrequently to ensure it is not sticking to bottom or sides of the pot.
Heat to soft ball stage or 238F on a candy thermometer. To test for soft ball stage without a thermometer, pour a small spoonful of fudge into cold water. Scoop up the fudge in your fingers; if it cools into a soft pliable ball you can work between your fingers it has reached the soft ball stage. If not, keep boiling and test again.
Once it reaches the soft ball stage, turn off heat. Allow to cool to 110F, cool enough to hold a finger in the fudge. Do not stir. Once cool, stir in vanilla and nuts, if using. Beat with a spoon until the fudge is smooth and no longer glossy. Spread into a lightly buttered 8x8 inch dish, smoothing with damp fingers. Cool completely and cut into squares.
(This article first appeared in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.)