Carrying my cup of tea into the living room, I sat down to watch birds outside the large window. Small chickadee and dowdy finch were busy eating sunflower seeds at the feeder. Every so often a strong gust of wind made snow sift softly down from the pine branches above. On the ground below, snow swirled, but didn’t bother a female cardinal who continued to scratch and peck the seeds dropped by other birds.
I took a sip of the hot, comforting tea. It was good to be indoors on a day like this. Picking up a candy I’d made the day before, I admired how it looked so very much like a real mushroom. Biting off the stem, the crisp, sugary meringue quickly melted on my tongue. Studying the rest of the candy, I admired its cinnamon and nutmeg toadstool freckles. Chocolate took the place of mushroom gills on the bottom of the meringue.
Remembering how this mushroom candy became a Christmas tradition for my family made me smile nostalgically. When I had found the recipe in a woman’s magazine, I laughed. My big brother Billy hated mushrooms. He said all mushrooms were slimy toadstools, not fit for human consumption. I’d told my daughters, “This Christmas I’m going to give Billy some mushrooms he’ll love eating.” Niki and Tammie were nine and thirteen years of age that year.
On December 21st, a Saturday, the girls were in the living room watching television as I slowly began following the candy recipe. Outside my kitchen windows blizzard winds swirled snow from one place to another. Cold radiated through the window glass. The firm meringue in my mixing bowl reminded me of the snow drifts outside. Greasing and flouring jelly roll pans, I scooped the egg white mixture into a Ziploc bag. Cutting a small hole in one corner, I began to pipe mushroom caps and stems. After sprinkling cinnamon and nutmeg on the caps, the pans went in the oven to bake.
My husband Arnie came in for lunch. Busy making Christmas treats, I saved time by putting a pizza in the oven while the mushroom candies cooled. At the end of our meal, Arnie said, “I need to visit a customer of mine later this afternoon. He lives in Greenwood. Would you like to come with me and meet his wife? They’re Old World Amish.”
While waiting for Arnie to be ready to leave, I quickly melted chocolate and swirled some on the bottoms of the meringue caps and inserted the stems. The chocolate set quickly in my drafty house. Wanting to give a gift to the Amish wife, I found an empty check box, lined it with green tissue paper and filled it with about 9 of the mushrooms. A red curly ribbon bow finished the top.
Niki and Tammie were old enough that Arnie and I were beginning to let them be home alone for a few hours at a time, so I didn’t need to find a babysitter. The drifting snow on the roads wasn’t a problem for Arnie’s big truck. When we finally pulled into the farmyard, it looked as if we were visiting a different century. Bearded men speaking German were working with teams of large workhorses. An outhouse with a freshly shoveled path stood directly behind the family home.
The smell of freshly baked bread met us as we were invited into the house. Five daughters were cleaning the kitchen as their bread baked. Their mother invited me into the living room. Although Christmas was only four days away, not a single decoration could be seen. We sat down at a small table on one side of the room. I handed her the gift box. Surprised, she slowly lifted the lid and studied its contents.
The mushroom meringues looked real. I suddenly realized the Amish woman probably didn’t know what to say or do. I prompted, “It’s candy, try one.”
Gingerly, the woman lifted one out and carefully bit into it. It’s light, crispy texture so surprised her, she exclaimed, “Oh! Tis a bit of the wind!” Arnie and his customer joined us then at the small table. For the rest of the afternoon we talked and drank tea.
The visit with the Amish couple took place nearly thirty years ago, yet my memory and the delightful reaction the Amish wife had when she tasted my candy, lingers sweetly in my mind.