Saturday, May 17, 2014

Day 22 - Candy Making 101

I got up this morning with the desire to create something new from some of the honey I stole from my bees.  Does it make it "my honey" if I stole it from bees that are mine?  Interesting. . .
Anyway, I was watching some cooking shows and YouTube videos not too long ago about candy making and melting sugar to re-purpose it into something else.  Specifically, I watched how candy canes were made and found it very interesting.  Honey is basically a liquefied, concentrated sugar so perhaps it functions in a similar way when heated.  Sugar goes through several stages on its way to becoming burnt and if you bring it to a specific temperature and then cool it, you can create so many different things with it.  For candy canes, sugar is melted and heated to about 310 degrees to achieve what is known as the hard crack state.  This means when it is cooled to room temperature it will be hard as  rock and will crack if you try to bend or break it.  Would honey react the same way if I heated it to 310 degrees?  Let's find out.
At risk of possibly losing 2 cups of my precious honey, I decided to take a chance by attempting to make some honey candy.  In a small pot I poured 2 cups of honey and added about 2 tablespoons of butter.  On medium heat I boiled it for about 10 minutes while carefully watching a thermometer.  I wasn't sure about when to stop it but after a little trial and error I finally settled on 310 degrees to achieve a hard crack state.  After letting it cool in the pan for a few minutes off heat, I poured it all out onto a pre-buttered platter for more cooling.  Here's what it looked like at this stage:
I used a pretty dark honey so that's why it is so dark on the platter.  I let it sit for several minutes to cool down further.  Once it got cool enough to hold in my hands I scooped it up from the platter and began the stretching process.  Stretching or pulling is a way to get the molten sugar to cool down and to incorporate air into the mixture.  It takes about 30 minutes and as you continue to stretch, pull and fold the sugar (or honey in this case) back onto itself, it starts to significantly lighten in color.  This mixture went from a chocolate brown to a light golden color as I continued to stretch it.
I took a long video of the whole process that I plan on uploading to YouTube when I get around to it.  After I stretched it for about 30 minutes it started to firm up a bit because it was continually cooling down.  I had to work quickly at this point and with the help of my faithful assistant Jamie, we got it done.  We made long strands of what looked like taffy.  Then we snipped it into little bite sized nuggets with a pair of kitchen sheers.  It was pretty sticky stuff and it was difficult to keep all of the pieces separated. 
Overall it was a lot of fun and the best part about it was that these little bits of honey candy tasted amazing.  Remember the Bit-O-Honey candies?  Very similar to that.  Now, instead of scooping a spoonful of honey when I want a quick sweet snack, I can turn to my little candy bits.  Let's call them Honey Bits.  Another Survivor Diet success story!
Honey Bits - my candy creation
Later, in the afternoon I was thinking about doing a little fishing in the river.  Some of the little kids on my street came by and asked if they could go with me.  My kids never want to go - so why not take some other kids out to have a little fun.  Fluke season opens next Saturday so this would be a good opportunity to scout out a couple areas and to see if more fluke have come into the river.  The kids were REALLY excited and after getting permission from their parents we were off.
I made a nice little video of our adventure and posted it on YouTube so that these boys can see what a great job they did.  For some of them it was their very first time fishing and very first time catching a fish.  Great job guys!
When we got home I decided that it was time to make my first attempt at a primitive fire this year.  I really could use my second reward and if I could just make a fire it would unlock some really nice items to help me prepare my food.  I had some ideas yesterday about the type of fire tool I would build.  It's going to be a modified version of the primitive hand drill.  A hand drill is basically a straight piece of wood that you spin back and forth in the palm of your hands while pushing the end into another piece of wood.  The straight piece is the spindle and the wood you are spinning into is the fire board.  The basic premise is just like last year's bow drill - drill a hole into the fire board with the intention of creating a hot coal or ember using friction.  The hand drill is a little more difficult than the bow drill but both are very demanding on your energy levels.
I mentioned that my design would be a modification of the primitive hand drill.  That's because I will be using a straight piece of 1/2 inch PVC tubing for my spindle.  So I call my design the 'modern' primitive hand drill.  Still, even with the use of PVC, the principles remain the same and the energy and effort needed to produce a fire are the same.  You will understand when you look at the photos of my beat up, blistered, bloody hands after my first few attempts.
In preparation for this potential fire, I needed to gather a few things.  First - a tinder bundle.  I drove around town the other day looking for some dead cedar trees.  I found a few nice branches and the bark from cedar trees can be mashed up to make a nice tinder bundle.  Second - I need a pile of small kindling wood.  Again, this came in the form of twigs and shavings from these dead branches.  I simple organized it all into a neat little pile - ready to accept a flame from the tinder bundle.  Third - I needed a pile of large kindling and some fire logs.  For this I brought my newly constructed fire pit into action and piled up some larger pieces of wood.  This is how to grow a nice fire from a little baby ember.
I prepared my hand drill and my fire board and I was ready to rock and roll.  Or so I thought.  My expectations of my ability to start a primitive fire always exceed my actual ability to do so.  This was exhausting!  The first hurtle came when the spindle kept continually slipping through my hands.  I couldn't hold it firmly enough to prevent slipping.  The solution was quite simple.  Take a little honey and rub it on my hands for an extra sticky grip.  Boy did this work - actually too well.  On my next attempt I was sticking to that spindle and spinning away like mad.  I finally stopped and looked down at my hand to see a very large blister that was partially torn off the palm.  Ouch!  Not good at all.  I was stupid for not wearing gloves.  I rubbed some dirt on it and got back to work - cause I'm a tough guy like that.  This time I put on a pair of gloves. (Cause I ain't that tough)
Next attempt - next failure.  I think my spindle was too long.  Shorten it.  Try again.  Lot's of smoke - no fire.  I think my spindle was a little too short now.  Lengthen it.  Try again.  And that went on for a while - trying to modify some part of my equipment in order to get that precious ember to ignite.
 Finally, after several failures, I got my first ember!  When this happens you just have to treasure the moment.  All of that hard work has paid off and your reward is this teeny tiny little glowing red ember.  It's almost like giving birth (sorry for offending every woman on the planet) and now you have to nurture and care for this little guy so that he can grow and grow and live up to his full potential.  Well, my first little baby died shortly after his life began.  I tried and tried to save him but I just couldn't.  Please excuse my foul language at the end of this video - I was under a lot of stress and the loss of my little ember just put me over the edge.
It took me a while to get over this tragedy.  However - knowing that it can be done is a firm reminder to me that it can be done again!  Back on the horse.  Bloody blister be damned - I'm going to get this fire started!  I had to use gloves but on my very next attempt I was able to give birth (sorry ladies) to another little ember.  I was determined this time to not let him die like the last one.  With each failure, hopefully we learn from our mistakes so that we can avoid similar failures moving forward.  That is how we grow, succeed and survive.  I did it.  And now I can do it again and again and again if I have to.  Fire can mean the difference between life and death in a survival situation.  It also means you can cook your food!

It was a very busy Saturday as you can see.  I didn't do much in the way of gathering any food.  But my efforts in fire making will unlock my week 2 reward of nori sheets, soy sauce, powdered wasabi, and a bag of popcorn.  I used to get a bag of dried figs for this weekly reward instead of the pop corn.  The purpose of the figs was to finally give me something sweet to eat but I find that I do not need that any longer since I have all of this stolen honey.  Popcorn will make a nice treat on occasion and I don't think it will negatively affect my weight or overall health.
Bring on the sushi.  Now I'm ready.  Next week is the official opening to fluke season and I am also looking forward to the crabs which may be right around the corner.

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