Making buttermints brings the family together, even if it’s on Zoom: NPR
Jordan Harrison/Collage by NPR
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There were only a certain number of days each winter when the temperature dropped below zero where Jordan Harrison grew up in North Carolina. And when those days came, that meant waking up early, getting the family together, and making a batch of buttermints.
“My grandmother learned how to make buttermints, which are like peppermint candies that melt in your mouth, in home economics when she was in high school and passed that on,” said Harrison.
“It’s become a way that I think we bond when my mom’s side of the family is all together, and it’s just a connecting force for all of us.”
Butter mints don’t require a lot of ingredients, but special equipment — and cold weather — is necessary. Probably the most important item is a large slab of marble. It is buttered and then taken out at sub-zero temperatures, while a confectionary mixture is boiled on the stove.
“Sometimes people ask me, like, why can’t you just put it in the freezer? I think the main reason for that is that the humidity also needs to be low. And then usually these slabs are quite big and don’t always fit in the freezer,” she says.
Harrison now lives in Chicago and uses his fire escape as a chill spot for his marble slab on mint-making days. Although she has made many mints with her family over the years, she said she only started making them herself last year after her mother, who lives in Raleigh, told her gave a lesson on Zoom. It was a success.
“I really felt like I did some mints that went pretty well,” she said.
But more importantly, Harrison said, it connected her to her family.
“Making mints in my family — it brings me closer to my mom, it brings me closer to my aunt and uncle and, even though they’re gone now, I think it brings me closer to my grandparents. “
Working with her mother on Zoom also gave Harrison a chance to write down the recipe that until then had been passed down by word of mouth, though there is one question she still can’t answer.
“How long do they stay good? That’s a good question,” Harrison said. “I’m not exactly sure because I feel like in my family they are always eaten pretty quickly. So I don’t know if we ever reached their maximum shelf life.”
Recipe submitted by Jordan Harrison
- 1 cup of water
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- Granulated sugar
- a few drops of peppermint oil, not peppermint extract
- 1 half stick of unsalted butter
- a few drops of food coloring (optional)
- an icy, buttery marble slab
- a candy thermometer
- a sturdy pair of kitchen scissors, preferably spring-loaded
Butter a marble slab and set it outside in freezing temperatures to cool it down.
Place waxed paper on a large flat surface and sprinkle with powdered sugar.
Put the water, granulated sugar and butter in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan and heat over high heat on a stove.
Measure the temperature of the mixture with a candy thermometer until it reaches 258 degrees F. (At about 240 degrees, collect the marble slab from the outside.) Remove from the stove and immediately pour the mixture onto the slab of marble.
When it begins to cool, carefully use your hands to fold the outer edges toward the center. Continue doing this until the mixture becomes a more solid candy mass and less of a puddle.
Move the candy to the colder parts of the marble slab until it is cold enough to handle completely. Place the candy mass in the center of the plate and make a depression in the middle.
Add food coloring and 2-4 drops of peppermint oil to the depression. Take the candy with both hands and start pulling a rope about half an inch to three quarter inch thick. Then fold it in half on itself and repeat.
Keep pulling and bending the candy like a tug machine, until it starts to lose its shine and becomes difficult to pull.
Now pull the candy into a long string, about as thick as your finger, twisting as you pull so it has a spiral pattern. Place the candy on the waxed paper as you pull.
Using heavy scissors, cut the strand into approximately 1-inch pieces. They should form small cushions.
When you’re done, make sure the pieces aren’t touching. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and let sit for at least 20-30 minutes.
Then, place them in an airtight container and shake them every six to eight hours to prevent sticking. Do this until the mints are no longer sticky, about 12 to 24 hours.
Mints are ready to eat when the texture is creamy and melts in your mouth. This will depend on climate, temperature and humidity. (Low humidity is ideal for mint-making conditions.)