Spaniel prints and Penuche

Posted on December 18, 2010


During this morning’s walk through the woods I didn’t even have the little camera with me.  I can post only so many pictures of snowpiles in gray winter light. The dogs were being highly entertaining, but capturing their antics at these temperatures is beyond me. [Note to Scott: Is there such a thing as a tiny little Photographer’s Shelter that makes a warm bubble around the Photographer’s fingers and camera as she treks through the winter woods?]

Miss Sadie trotted along tail high, eyes bright, lifting her paws like a particularly elegant racehorse. The Cowboy plunged into the deep snow off the trail, snuffling for evil stuff to roll in. I hollered, he bounced back in a rocking motion, leaving spaniel prints in the drifts: one big impression of his whole furry body at each bounce.

Now we’re back inside where it’s cozy. I have been busy fooling around with family history and old photos, as I have promised to tell old stories to young people. That gets us to the penuche.  OK, first you need to meet someone.

This is my maternal grandmother, Gram. This is how I remember her looking when I was a very little girl, when we lived with her and Grampa at the farm outside Rhinelander, Wisconsin.  She’s standing in front of the farmhouse.  Well, behind it really, but this is the only entrance we ever used.  That screened porch was winterized with sheets of stuff that was like plastic, but not like today’s plastic.  It was probably War Surplus groundcloths or something equally serviceable.  As you can see, I follow family tradition in these matters.

Step through that open screen door and knock the snow off your boots. Now you can go through the next door into the kitchen. Nowadays people would call it a Great Room. It was the all-purpose center of life at the farm, and the only place that was always warm in the winter, or even in the early spring when the snow was melting away. Ready for the penuche? Good. This was the excellent treat Gram made for me when I was a tiny tot.  I copied the recipe from the Wise Encyclopedia of Cookery because it seems to produce the effect I remember. 


  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup top milk  (this means rich milk from the top of the bottle, but you can use canned evaporated milk just as well)
  • Optional: 2/3 cup chopped nuts, raisins, or marshmallows

Combine the butter, sugar and milk and cook to the soft ball stage (238° F.), stirring only until the mixture begins to hold its shape.  Gram never had a candy thermometer in her life.  She didn’t fool around with that business of testing the candy by dropping a bit of it into water, either.  She just stirred it up until it looked about right.  I was watching closely.  About Right was always a little bit longer than I believed I could possibly wait.

Stir in any optional ingredients you’ve decided to add.  Gram almost never did this.  We were purists. 

Turn into a buttered shallow pan. It would be best to turn it into a large oval platter made of thick china with a pattern of roses.  Put a sheet of waxed paper over it while it cools.  Keep it up on the counter where you can keep an eye on it.  Otherwise little fingers, or Grampa’s spoon, or the velvet nose of Bingo the beagle, might stray into it. 

When it is firm—you must be very, very patient, as this takes at least leventy-nine hours of a little girl’s life—you may cut it into pieces and eat it.  It is probably not the best treat I ever ate, but in memory there has never been anything half so miraculously delicious.  Besides, my grandma made it specially for me.