EPHRAIM—Holiday food traditions in the Parry and Judith Olson family may have started almost 100 years ago when Parry’s mother, Blodwen, was 8 years old.
Blodwen’s mother asked her if she wanted to learn to bake a cake. Blodwen replied, “Yes, of course I would.”
Her mother guided her through a basic recipe, including how to make frosting, and taught her what to add to a chocolate cake or a spice cake.
“So I made my first of many cakes, made on Saturday for Sunday dinner,” Blodwen says in “Foodprints,” the Olson family history and cook book published on her 100th birthday.
That first cooking lesson blossomed into a enormous culinary repertoire, which Blodwen displayed especially during the holidays.
She passed the tradition on to her daughter-in-law, Judith, and even to her granddaughter-in-law, Kim Olson, wife of Parry’s and Judith’s son, Brett.
When Blodwen was more than 95 years old, Kim went to her house to watch her make a couple of her best-known items, candy and dinner rolls.
And in early November of this year, Brett and Kim went to Richfield to pick up a 10-pound block of chocolate in the candy section of Christensen’s Department Store for dipped chocolates, just as Judith does and as his grandmother did before she died in 2015 at age 101.
Candy making “passed from mom to Judith to a daughter-in-law now,” Parry says.
Parry remembers that every year, as soon as Thanksgiving was over, Blodwen started making candy. She put some time into it every week until close to Christmas.
“It was no small undertaking,” he says. “She made maybe 50 pounds in all different kinds. Every batch of Blodwen’s candy did not turn out. Sometimes it would take several tries. But she got better and better.”
She made divinity, orange creams, mint creams, almond joy bars, fudge, cherry chocolates, truffles and a pecan roll with a Boston cream center.
But perhaps the candy that set her apart was her caramels, especially when she put black walnuts in them. “They were to die for,” Parry says.
The black walnuts have a story associated with them, a story, also published in “Foodprints.”
When Blodwen was growing up in Manti, her family had black walnuts trees growing in front of their house. They waited until the fall winds blew the nuts out of the trees. They put the nuts on the roof of a shed to dry. Then they stored them in flour sacks in their cellar.
When walnuts were needed for a recipe, Blodwen’s mother would pay her children 5 cents per cup to shell them. “The cracking was a job because the shells were hard and had to be hit just right with a hammer,” Blodwen says in the cookbook story.
Parry says it took about an hour to shell one cup of nuts, so 5 cents was paltry pay. But in the story in the cookbook, Blodwen says, “Five cents per cup was fun to earn, especially because we helped to eat them.”
The opening chapter in the Parry-and-Judith-Olson story happened in the 1960s. Parry met Judith, who lived on the other side of the mountains in Castle Dale, Emery County. He dated her a few times and then left on an LDS mission.
Parry’s parents must have been impressed with her, because when he came home in 1967, they invited her to go to airport with them to pick him up.
When everybody got back to Ephraim, Parry didn’t seem very interested in Judith. He says he abandoned her for a couple of days. Blodwen put her in room with a younger sister. Judith spent those days with Blodwen making candy.
“I had not really made candy until I married into this family,” Judith says.
Finally, Parry got around to driving Judith back to Castle Dale. Judith’s dad apparently liked him, because her dad invited Parry to stay for a couple of days, “and the rest is history,” Parry says.
In time, Judith adapted some of her mother-in-law’s recipes into her own specialties, such as turtles. She puts down two pecans and drops caramel on them. When the caramel sets up, she dips the whole turtle in chocolate. She lays the turtles out to set up on a commercial non-stick liner placed on a cookie sheet.
Parry credits Judith with helping Blodwen perfect her chocolate dipping skills. Blodwen tried various approaches to melting the chocolate, such as using a double boiler on a stove or even a pan resting in hot tap water in a sink. But Blodwen and Judith settled on chopping up the chocolate, putting it in a flat pan and melting it in the oven at 200 degrees.
If the chocolate gets too hot, after a cherry or truffle is dipped in it, it will turn white, Judith says.
Before they started dipping, they added some additional fine shavings of chocolate to the melted chocolate. That helps the chocolate set up faster after candy is dipped, Judith says.
Parry and Judith say they are exceptionally blessed to have six adult children (one son has died). Five of their children live in Ephraim and the sixth on the Wasatch Front. They have 31 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Each Christmas Eve they have a big family gathering, about 50 people, at their home or a son’s home in Ephraim.
They have a special meal, including prime rib, shrimp, crab legs and homemade ice cream like Grandma Blodwen use to make.
“We try to end the evening on a spiritual note,” Parry says, by having the children present a nativity scene and reading the Christmas story from the Bible.
And throughout the evening, there’s homemade candy to nibble on and even some to take home, reflecting recipes and skills that go back at least two generations.
Blodwen Olson’s Black Walnut Carmels
1/2 C. butter
1 C. cream or 2 cans evaporated milk
2 C corn syrup
4 C sugar
2 t. vanilla
1 C. black walnuts
Combine butter, syrup, sugar and one half of the cream (1/2 C.) or one can of the evaporated milk in a heavy sauce pan. Bring to a rolling boil, stirring constantly. Add the other 1/2 C. of cream or the second can of evaporated milk. Add gradually to keep the mixture boiling.
Cook 25-30 minutes total to the firm ball stage. You can test by dropping a spoonful of the mixture in ice water and molding it into a ball with your fingers. When ready, it will feel firm but pliable and still sticky. Or use a candy thermometer and cook to 230-240 degrees.
Remove from heat. Add vanilla and walnuts. Pour into a buttered jelly roll pan. Cool, cut and wrap pieces in wax paper.