Cooking With Myra: A sweet legacy
By Myra Starkey
Dec. 11, 2012 at 12:11 p.m.
Ginger's Caramel Turtles
• 48 Kraft caramels (unwrapped)
• 2 Tbsp. milk
• 2 cups pecans
• Chocolate bark
Melt caramels with 2 tablespoons milk. Add pecans. Stir until well mixed. Place foil on countertop and spray with Pam. Place two tablespoons of melted caramel-pecan mixture on foil, separating the dollops by about 4 inches. You must work quickly as the caramel begins to harden. Allow enough time for caramel to become firm. Melt chocolate bark in microwave in quart glass container. Using a slotted spoon, dip quickly in chocolate and place again on foil. Allow to set for at least 1-2 hours.
• 1 cup sugar
• 1/2 cup light corn syrup
• 1/4 tsp. salt
• 1/4 cup water
• 1 cup unroasted peanuts
• 2 Tbsp. softened butter
• 1 tsp. baking soda
• candy thermometer
Spray a cookie sheet with vegetable cooking spray. In a heavy saucepan, pour the sugar, corn syrup, salt and water together and stir. Bring the mixture to a boil and then stir in peanuts. Set a candy thermometer in place and continue to cook, stirring frequently. When the temperature reaches 300 degrees, remove from heat and add butter and baking soda. Stir well to incorporate butter. Pour onto cookie sheet and press mixture out with back of a spatula. The mixture will cover a space of 12 inches by 12 inches. Allow mixture to cool and then break apart.
Tip: If you warm the cookie sheets prior to placing the mixture on them, the brittle will not set so quickly, and you are able to make thinner brittle. Warm oven to 200 and place sheet in oven for 10 minutes. Remove and pour brittle mixture onto warmed cookie sheet. Spread thinly.
On Saturdays, I work around the house, catching up on the little things that I did not have time to do during the work week. If the weather is pretty, I might be in the garden or the yard. I love to do that because I am mostly stuck inside Monday through Friday. If I cannot enjoy the outdoors, then I catch up on leisure reading or try to sort through the mail that arrives during the week. Sometimes, we travel out of town to visit one of our kids. I cherish the Saturdays in my life because I need that time to relax and recharge. This last Saturday, I had something more important to do.
Last week, a dear fellow named Welton stopped off at the office to invite our staff to his wife's memorial service. Ginger died about one month ago after a battle with brain cancer, but the family had a private burial and chose to wait a month before having the celebration service. She was a patient of ours and a very special lady.
Ginger was the sort of patient that any doctor would love to take care of. She almost hated to burden you with any complaints of pain or illness, but rather seemed to want to know how you were doing. She always had a smile on her kind face. She loved doing things for others.
Ginger would often come to the office with large quantities of homemade peanut brittle, chocolate-covered peanuts and caramel pecan turtles. I don't mean that she brought us a little paper plate of these things. She would bring us a whole tray that would satisfy all 25 of us who work at the clinic. And this candy was made with recipes that would make your favorite grandma jealous. In fact, if your granny sent you a box of candy on the same day that Ginger had stopped by, you likely would eat Ginger's candy first. It was that good.
When she would arrive at the clinic, you would think that someone beyond important was there. They would whisk her to the back like royalty. The very mood of the place would change when the word passed that Ginger had arrived. People would leave their work stations to go back to the break room as soon as they could muster a halfway reasonable excuse, because that is where the blessed candy lay. But even when she came in and did not bring anything, she was cherished by all of us because of her kindness.
Ginger was born Sept. 16, 1936. She and Welton were married for 57 years and had met in their early teenage years. They had lived in central Texas and would come down to the Austwell area to fish on the bay with their three kids. Once Welton retired from the construction industry, they bought a simple home in that little farming town. Austwell is surrounded on three sides by plowed fields and on one side by Hynes Bay. They lived there together for the last 17 years. Ginger had a long stint at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge taking people on tours and sharing her vast knowledge of coastal wildlife.
On Saturday, Taylor and I drove south on the farm-to-market blacktop through barren, plowed fields that extended to the horizon in all directions. Winter is the time of rest. We almost felt compelled to go to this memorial service, not only because we thought so much of Ginger but also that we feared that in such an isolated place there might be few others to show up to pay their respects.
We saw few other cars as we drove under the mostly overcast skies. It was just past noon, and we were running late. Our destination in Austwell was a place called My Wife's Cafe, where the life celebration was taking place. As we made the last curve into town, just past a large, abandoned cotton gin, we saw the place, and there were so many vehicles that we had difficulty finding a place to park. Ginger's kind spirit and generosity had obviously been no secret.
Sawyer, the proprietor of the place, greeted us with a smile at the door. Welton was just inside and genuinely expressed his appreciation for us coming, and we told him it was the least we could do, considering the feelings we had for Ginger. The room was crowded with people, and more were spilling out onto the porches with plates in their hands.
I felt like I was at a Baptist church luncheon since I had about 15 choices of salads. Smoke from the outdoor barbecue pit wafted through the doors as they opened, making me hungrier than I realized. Delicious barbecue brisket, sausage and pork platters overflowed the serving dishes. We filled our plates, grabbed a cup of iced tea and had much difficulty finding an empty seat.
Taylor went in search of dessert and, to my surprise, came back to the table with sweets just like Ginger made. In fact, they tasted exactly like hers, so I asked who made them and was told it was Kay, her only daughter. Kay had cared for her mom through her brain cancer, hoping for the best but preparing for the inevitable. She told us how the doctors had done all they could, and then she was gone.
None of us knows when we will breathe our last breath or see our loved ones for the last time. We cannot count our days, but we can make our days count. Ginger made an impact by showing kindness to those around her. I will miss her smile.
I am reprinting her caramel chocolate turtle recipe she was so well known for. I am also printing a peanut brittle recipe that I have used for years (I hope to have Ginger's soon to share with readers). Since the holidays are almost here, take out a pot and whip up a batch of kindness.
Myra Starkey lives in Victoria. Write her in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901, or email email@example.com.