About 15 years ago, I lost my first grandma. Eight years ago, I lost my second grandma. I love them, and I miss them all the time, but I continue to feel close to them as I learn their history, tell stories of them to my kiddos, and make the same things they used to make. Sometimes it’s a particular quilt pattern, or an apron with a vintage feel to it, but most often it’s a recipe that I remember from Sunday dinners or holidays at Grandma’s house.
At Christmas time, I feel especially close to my grandmas as I make traditional holiday foods handed down from generation to generation. Norwegian Fattigmans, Grandma Mary’s steamed pudding with a buttery toffee sauce, and these rice crispy marshmallow balls that my Grandma Darlene made every Christmas Eve. It just wasn’t the holidays without them. In fact, the most miserable Clark Christmas ever must have been the year I was in third grade. My little brother contracted chicken pox from someone in his class, and it raged through all of us kids the week of Christmas. We were crestfallen when our parents told us we were too contagious to go to Grandma’s house for Christmas Eve. Totally inconsolable.
On Christmas Day, as we were all bundled up, trying not to scratch or whine about our pathetically sad, ill holiday, Grandma and Grandpa appeared at our door, like holiday angels. Grandma had insisted on a delivery of gifts and treats, including our favorite crispy balls. She pretty much saved Christmas.
Now, you won’t find this recipe in any cookbook of which I know. I imagine my grandma, in the early 60s, finding it in one of those recipe pamphlets Kraft gave out in the grocery stores in the pre-internet days. So I’m sharing my very simple recipe here. Perhaps you have a favorite recipe, or quilt pattern, or holiday song that instantly fills you with nostalgia for the days and the lovely people of a bygone era, or perhaps you need to pick a vintage tradition of your own to share with those you love now, and those you will love that you don’t even know yet. Either way, here are a few books to find fun and festive vintage traditions of your own. And a recipe from my dear grandma, whose love and care I have continued to feel long after her soul left this world. Thank you, Darlene.
Crispy Marshmallow Balls
1 lb caramels, unwrapped
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 box crispy rice cereal
1 bag of large marshmallows
Over medium low heat, melt the caramels and sweetened condensed milk together until combined and warm. The caramel mixture should be thick but liquid.
Place the cereal in a 9×13 pan or a large bowl. Set up your dipping station in this order: Marshmallows, caramel, cereal, large piece of waxed paper on the countertop. Using a toothpick, fork, or chopstick, dip a marshmallow in the caramel until it’s completely covered. Tap off excess caramel, then coat in cereal. Place on waxed paper until cool. When completely cool, place in an airtight bag. They’ll keep for about a week.
Some people apparently add a stick of butter to the caramel, but I don’t think it’s necessary and I don’t like the greasiness. I have heard of people freezing them, but they never last long enough at my house to find out if it works. If the caramel hardens as you dip, just place it back on the burner for about a minute. I’ve also heard of people adding coconut, nuts or sprinkles to the cereal to change it up, but I like the simple way my grandma made hers.