Tuesday, December 8, 2015

making a settler's life a little sweeter, Crystal Rock Candy letter 3

Out here in Utah we have been waiting for some good old winter snow to fall. Among the many good reasons, skiing, sledding, snowshoeing, snowmen, having enough drinking water next year, is the want to make maple syrup candy for the Moving West project.

But since snow isn't in the immediate forecast there are other kinds of candy we can make. Today we are making Crystal Rock Candy for Emmy Ries, western settler, pioneer girl.   

A short historical note from an Old Timer:

By the late 1830s sugar's increasing availability and decreasing price enabled confectioners to profitably produce sugary drops and hard candies. “Penny Candies” were often sold 10-12 pieces for a penny.  They were marked for working-class children.  By the early 1850s, individuals could readily obtain the machinery and raw materials necessary to profit from making batches of candy in greater quantities. Penny candies became brightly colored often shaped like familiar consumer products, such as shoes, ships, hats, barrels, and purses. They were prominently displayed in glass jars in shop windows.  By the early 1870s penny candies were available just about everywhere, tobacco stores, five-and-dimes, newsstands, and movie theaters.

Crystal Rock Candy
  • 2 cups water
  • 4 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2-1 tsp flavoring extract or oil
  • food coloring
  • glass jar, washed and dried
  • thread

Cut a length of cotton thread a few inches longer than the height of the jar, and tape it to a pencil. 

Place the pencil across the lip of the jar.  Wind it until the thread is hanging ~1 inch from the bottom of the jar. On the bottom of the thread attach a paper clip to ensure it hangs straight.

If you are doing more than one flavor or color prepare multiple jars and threads and increase the sugar syrup recipe in proportion if needed.

Wet your thread, roll it in granulated sugar, set aside.  A coating of sugar on the thread creates a base layer or "seed crystals" for the sugar crystals to fix on when they start forming.

A short science note:
The string provides the surface for the crystals to grow. As the water evaporates from the string, small crystals of sugar will begin encrusting on the string providing a starting points for larger crystals. Future growth will be concentrated around these points.

In a medium-sized pan bring the water to a boil. Begin adding the sugar, one cup at a time, stirring after each addition. Continue to stir and boil the syrup until all of the sugar has been added and it is all dissolved. Remove pan from heat. It will take longer for the sugar to dissolve after each addition as the solution becomes more and more saturated with sugar.

After you have removed the sugar syrup from heat add the flavoring and colors. We did maple-vanilla with red food coloring in one and lemon, no coloring in the other.

Allow the sugar syrup to cool ~10 min and then pour it into your jar. Place the jar in a cool place, away from harsh lighting/fans/drafts, somewhere where it can sit undisturbed. Cover the top loosely with plastic wrap.

You should start to see sugar crystals forming within 4-6 hours.

Another short science note:
Two different methods contribute to the growth of the sugar crystals: precipitation and evaporation

In following the recipe, a supersaturated solution is created: heating a saturated sugar solution, a solution in which no more sugar can dissolve at a particular temperature and then allowing it to cool. 

A supersaturated solution is unstable. It contains more solute (here that is sugar) than can stay in a liquid form so the sugar comes out of solution, forming a precipitate. This method is called precipitation.

The other method involved is evaporation.  As time passes, the water will evaporate slowly from the solution. As the water evaporates, the solution becomes more saturated. Sugar molecules will continue to come out of the solution to collect onto the seed crystals on the string. 

The rock candy crystals grow molecule by molecule. A finished rock candy may contain millions of molecules attached to the string.

Allow the rock candy to grow until it is the size you want but don’t let it grow so large that it starts attaching the sides of the jar.  

These are our jars after about 3 hours. 
You can see the crystals starting to form inside the jar.

The last step is to remove the string and allow the candy to dry for a few minutes and enjoy!

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