Cooking Up a Storm (in Gifts)

I have been busy this December. I’m trying desperately to finish proofreading my forthcoming rhubarb book (with a little help from my friends), working a temporary retail job to pay for holiday presents, and OF COURSE shopping and cooking for the holidays.

As always, I have prepared several edible gifts. This year’s favorites (well, every year’s favorites!) include chili peanuts, sweet-and-spicy mustard, and curried cashews.

On Mass Appeal today, I prepared the cashews, as well as a favorite confection from my Pudding Hollow Cookbook, penuche. The recipe originally came from my wonderful matriarch of a neighbor, the late Mary Parker, known to all of us kids as Gam.

Penuche is a brown-sugar-based fudge that tastes a bit as though it has maple in it. It’s EXTREMELY rich and sweet—so much so that even I, sweet lover that I am, can’t eat too much of it. A tiny morsel is delicious, however.

Readers, what is your own favorite holiday gift? Please leave a comment below to let me know. (I’d love recipes if you’re willing to share them with me as a holiday present!)

And please have a wonderful holiday season. I wish you peace, joy, and a of course new rhubarb book in 2018….

Gam’s Penuche


1 cup sour cream
1 pound light brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)
a generous splash of vanilla


Combine the sour cream and the sugars in a heavy, medium-size saucepan, and place the pan over low to medium heat.

Stir the mixture constantly until it comes to a boil; then cover it for a minute or two to wash down the sides of the pan. Uncover the mixture, and cook it, without stirring much, until it reaches the soft-ball stage (234 degrees). Remove from heat.

Add the nuts (if you want them) and the vanilla, and let the mixture cool for a few minutes without stirring it. Don’t let it get cooler than lukewarm; optimally, it should be a bit warmer than that.

Beat the warm fudge until it becomes creamy and thickens slightly—in other words until it begins to seem fudgy. Quickly pour it into a buttered 8-by-8-inch pan, and let it cool before cutting it into squares. Store the fudge in an airtight container.

Makes about 36 squares, more or less, depending on your cutting. Penuche is best when eaten within 24 hours. Happily, it rarely lasts that long.

And now the video:

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5 Responses to “Cooking Up a Storm (in Gifts)”

  1. Timothy Pyle says:

    I grew up with my mother baking several times a week and in the holiday season she always made a Christmas bread with dried candied fruit. It always looked so festive with its red, green and yellow morsels. I continue this tradition with my own recipe of this holiday treat.

  2. Donna says:

    Oh I love to bake for the holidays. This year I only made mexican wedding cookies (easy to slice and bake instead of roll) but chocolate crinkle cookies are usually on the docket. I like to make cheese crackers, too. Have a very Merry Tinky!

  3. Margie says:

    I’m making the pretzel, rolo, with pecan-on-top thingies–whatever their name is.

  4. Grad says:

    I make Hot Pepper Jelly. I made 30 jars for my daughter’s wedding shower which was held outside at a gorgeous vineyard in Virginia. Love doing canning of any kind. That “ping” sound is magical. I’ll pull out the recipe and add it here. Merry Christmas, Tinky. Make me a rhubarb believer. It will be a challenge, I warn you😊

  5. Carol says:

    I have not heard the word “penuche” (we pronounced it “pen—oo—chee”) for many years. One of my favorite, special treats. Not good for you but marvelous in small doses.

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