For Pennsylvania Dutch children during the 1800’s, Christmas morning meant rushing downstairs to see if ChristKindl – known today as Santa Claus – had left them any goodies.
On Christmas Eve, children of Pennsylvania Dutch families would leave a plate on the table hoping that it would be filled with nuts, an apple or an orange, and clear toy candy. Toys were scarce for children of poor families, but how wonderfully practical it was to have a toy you can eat! The children would play with them as toys, wash them off, and eat them.
“Clear Toy” or “Barley”?
The names clear toy candy and barley sugar are sometimes used interchangeably to refer to clear molded sugar candy. However traditional “barley sugar” is actually made with barley water in addition to cane sugar, while modern clear toy candy is made with pure water. Confusion arises because the older term “barley sugar” became generalized and was applied to a wide range of boiled sugar candies during the 1800’s.
The candies were traditionally made in three colors: clear, red and green, and were known as “the trinity.” The natural color of the syrup is yellow, which results in the “clear” version. If you want to make the candies red or green, food coloring must be added to the syrup while it is cooking.
It’s a Pennsylvania thing
Clear toys are often not found outside Pennsylvania. The first molds to make clear toys were brought to this country by German immigrants to the Philadelphia, Pa. area of North America before 1850. An active candy-making industry grew up around Philadelphia because it was a center for the sugar trade
Clear toys are made to resemble anything from a rabbit to a train car. The hot solution is poured into a mold made of iron or composition (a mixture of tin and zinc) and then quickly hardened. These molds are essential in the candy-making process. In fact, three dimensional clear toys could not be made without them.
Simple yet delicious
The most often used recipe is simple; a solution of corn syrup, sugar, water and, if desired, food coloring. Some makers now add flavors, but if you want the traditional taste that so many of us grew up with and associate with clear toy candy, leave added flavors out — the taste of clear toys is based on the very simple ingredients (which some people describe as akin to cotton candy). In the original 1800’s recipe cream of tartar was used along with barley water and sugar because at that time corn syrup had not been developed.
Unless you have a controlled environment, the candy can usually only be made around Christmas/winter in our area because humidity can affect the end result in hardness and clarity.
Modern-molded candy is flat while the older molds and reproductions produce 3-dimension animals, baskets, pitchers, cups, saucers, and teapots. Silicone molds are available now, but the candy is not as clear as with the metal, according to experienced clear toy makers. If kept cool and away from humidity, the candy has been known to remain good for up to 20 years.
A copper pot is preferred because it conducts the heat more evenly. A candy pot has a pouring spout. Pewter pots were used, and since the 1850s cast iron was popular...
Read the whole article and find the recipe on A Coalcraker in the Kitchen.
About the author
Born and raised “a coal miner’s daughter” in the Anthracite Region of Pennsylvania, Lori Fogg loves to share recipes and memories of home with fellow “coalcrackers” and those who enjoy easy-to-make, budget-friendly foods that celebrate the unique blending of Eastern European and Pa. Dutch heritage and cuisines here in northeast and northcentral Pennsylvania.