Appalachia Christmas

Hard Rock Candy

I first shared this Christmas treat recipe back in December of 2013. It’s another sweet treat that I never think about until Christmas rolls around.

Christmas Hard Rock Candy

I don’t remember Granny ever making hard rock candy-but the lady who fixes Granny’s hair makes Hard Rock Candy every Christmas and gives it out as gifts. When I visit Granny this time of the year-I always look around for the little jelly jar full of hard rock candy and sneak a few pieces.

I found this recipe in Mark F. Shohn’s Mountain Country Cooking and there was a recipe inside the package of cinnamon oil I purchased for the candy. The recipes were almost exactly alike-except Shohn’s gave the option of making Sassafras Hard Rock Candy.

I assembled all my ingredients and gave it a go. Even though I was using a candy thermometer I somehow managed to burn the candy. And my what a smoky smelly mess that made! I carried the pot outside and set it down to cool and went right back in the kitchen to give it another try.

Hard rock candy recipe

This time I got out my red and white checkered Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook that Granny got me when I was first married. The recipe for Hard Rock Candy in it was basically the same however it had more details about the process-making it clear the rise in temperature had to be at a slow and steady pace. The Better Homes and Gardens recipe also used a lower temperature for the candy.

Christmas Hard Rock Candy

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup light-colored corn syrup
  • 1/4 desired food coloring
  • A few drops of cinnamon or peppermint oil
  • a candy thermometer
  • butter
  • aluminum foil (or tin foil as we call it)

First line a 8X8 pan with foil and butter the foil. I didn’t have an 8X8 pan so I make one out of a larger pan by placing a small loaf pan in one end with a can of can food to hold it in place under the foil.

Butter sides of a heavy 2 quart saucepan.

Rock candy

Add sugar, corn syrup, and water to the saucepan. Cook and stir over medium-high heat till mixture boils, stirring to dissolve the sugar-about 5 minutes. Using a candy thermometer-reduce heat to medium and boil until the mixtures reaches 290 degrees. Stir mixture occasionally-this part takes a good 20 minutes if not longer.

Old fashioned hard rock candy

Once the mixture reaches 290 remove it from the heat quickly. Add food coloring and flavoring-stir and then quickly pour the hot mixture into the foil lined pan. Let the mixture cool about 10 minutes and then using a spatula score the top layer of the candy in a checkerboard pattern. If the mixture is too hot the score marks will disappear-don’t worry just wait a few minutes more and try again.

Cool completely. Turned cooled candy out onto a cutting board and break along the score marks. This part didn’t work out to well for me. So I ended up laying a piece of plastic wrap on top of the candy and beating it into small pieces by using the back of an ice-cream scooper. (the plastic keeps the pieces from flying all over the place)

Put the broken pieces of candy into a ziplock bag and add less than 1/4 cup of powdered sugar. Shake the bag around-coating the candy. This step makes the candy look prettier-and it keeps it from sticking together.

Even though I ruined the first batch-the second batch of candy was more than worth all the trouble and mess. I don’t know who likes it better-me or The Deer Hunter.

Hard rock candy recipe from western north carolina

A few key points:

  • while the thermometer starts off slowly climbing-it seems to speed up as it reaches about 230-so be sure to stay close by
  • the mixture is beyond hot-so be careful not to get splattered by it
  • once the cinnamon or peppermint oil is added to the hot mixture-the quick release of odor will almost catch your breath if you’re leaning over the pot
  • Granny’s hairdresser uses molds for her hard rock candy-so the pieces are all uniform in size and shape


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  • Reply
    December 13, 2021 at 7:51 am

    In the 60’s, I remember lollypops at Christmastime in red, green, and a light brown color!! They all tasted the same and something in my memory says “barley” was attached to them. Is there such a thing as a barley pop? I so enjoy your blog … thank you! Merry Christmas to you and yours …

  • Reply
    Rev. Rose Marie "RB" Redmond
    December 14, 2015 at 4:15 pm

    Our nephew made this for a few CHRISTmases when he was younger, and we loved it. He hasn’t made it lately. I think work must keep him too busy nowadays.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    December 14, 2015 at 3:02 pm

    One more thing. Tamela’s Granny’s liquid filled chocolate covered cherries are made by adding inverted sugar (invertase) to the candies. My wife used to make those too. The sugar around the cherry starts out as a mixture like a very stiff dough but within a couple of weeks the invertase changes all the sugar inside the chocolate shell into a thick liquid.
    All you need is a jar of maraschino cherries, powdered sugar and dipping chocolate. You can make your own invert sugar at home but I don’t know the exact recipe. The most difficult thing about making this candy is leaving it alone long enough for the process to complete.

  • Reply
    December 14, 2015 at 2:42 pm

    One more thing about making candy and I am not trying to be a know-it-all. The reason the temperature rises slowly for a while then takes off is because if there is any alcohol or water or any other volatile liquid in the mixture, it has to vaporize (boil off) before the temperature will rise above boiling point. The boiling itself realizes the heat thereby holding the temperature down. Alcohol’s boiling point is about 175° and water’s is about 212° (I don’t know of any more volatile liquids that might be put in candy.) When most of the volatile liquids are gone the heat starts to rise quickly and the mixture starts to bubble vigorously. Since sugar doesn’t evaporate and keep the temperature down, the temperature will continue to rise until around 360° you suddenly have a lump of coal.
    I know the recipe doesn’t call for any alcohol but many flavorings and extracts have it. Some have it as the main ingredient. But don’t worry, at 180° it has already left the party. That rush of flavor you experience when you lean over the pot might be the alcohol leaving.
    If it had been sunny today I might have been outside instead of on here bothering you.

  • Reply
    December 14, 2015 at 1:03 pm

    My Granny (my great-grandmother) always had candy around. Usually it was lemon drops or candy corn; but when Christmas rolled around she bought one box of chocolate covered cherries (with the translucent syrup inside – not the white cream) and one box of raspberry candies which were shape like raspberries – those were (and still are) my favorite! One of her daughters always sent her a box of ribbon candy – it was almost too pretty to eat! (Does anyone know how to make that?)
    My youngest son was born on Dec. 21 and as soon as he could talk, he decided that he would have a gingerbread house for his birthday. Still does 40 years later. His gingerbread houses have led to many adventures as his designs became more and more elaborate.
    Making gingerbread houses has become our grandma tradition. The granddaughters want to make them even if they aren’t going to be here for Christmas so we sometimes make them in January too. This coming Saturday the older two granddaughters are planning a Gingerbread house day – that is, if they survive finals week!

    • Reply
      April 10, 2022 at 4:45 pm

      If you want to know how to make ribbon candy, check out the Hercules Candy Co channel. Find one of the videos and it will show you how they make it. Of course, it’s commercial sized batches but it’s a good place to start.

  • Reply
    December 14, 2015 at 12:09 pm

    Did you calibrate your candy thermometer? Candy recipes base temperatures on the boiling point of water. Altitude and barometric pressure can change that. If you live in the lowlands water boils at 212°. The higher you go in altitude the lower the boiling point goes so you have to cook the candy longer. If you don’t calibrate the thermometer, you don’t know the boiling point. Cherokee County goes from a low point of about 1600 ft to over 5000 ft. Depending on where you are in between that temperature could change by almost 10°.
    In my opinion the cheapest candy thermometer is the best. The kind that has a glass bulb fixed in a metal frame with the markings on the frame. The bulb is not supposed to slide in the frame but it will if you gently force it. To calibrate it you put it in boiling water (don’t let it touch any part the pot itself just like when you are making candy) for 10 minutes. Now take it out and move the bulb to where the line of the liquid inside to bulb lines up with the 212° mark on the frame. Now you’re cooking!
    I learned this back when my wife made candy to sell. Her thermometer got handled too rough and the bulb was almost out of the frame. Instead of tossing it, I decided I could fix it. I got the bulb back in and tightened up the holding points enough so it wouldn’t move too easily. Then I calibrated it like I show above and it worked just fine. In fact it worked better because it was calibrated for my own kitchen.
    Digital and dial thermometers are different in that you can’t change the scale (at least not on any I can afford), so you have to get a chart, find your altitude and add the difference to whatever temperature you are trying to achieve. That is just too complicated for my little pea brain.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    December 14, 2015 at 11:40 am

    I love hard rock candy…There is a lady and her daughter that are vendors at craft shows here in the area. They make every flavor known and also sell a mixed bag for those who can’t decide which flavor they want to buy…Yes, she has all the samples out to try…yummm. I always end up with a small bag of cinnamon (red) and a small bag of mixed…
    I made hard candy the last couple of years. I get everything ready first….be prepared to watch my candy thermometer like a hawk…as it rises in temperature depending on (who knows what?) it will sometimes jump up high, nearly too high…ha I follow a recipe from “Sugar Bakers” candy supply located in Knoxville, TN…That store has any mold, melting chocolate, flavorings, fondant colors, etc. known to man…They also have every shape, candy box, bag or candy tin for you to put your prize sugar delight in to give away or keep…
    I’ve got to make a trip there to buy me another candy thermometer….I broke mine…they carry professional supply’s as well as layman’s products.
    My recipe is similar to yours Tipper….Making good hard candy is not to be rushed….one must have patience and watch the pot…of course after it boils…ha
    Thanks Tipper, such a sweet post….ha

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    December 14, 2015 at 10:55 am

    I love Christmas Candy, the hard kind like you made. My ex use to give me a can of that Christmas Candy. It’s made somewhere in Texas and I think it’s called,
    “Mary of Puddin’ Hill.” It was colorful, with all kinds of hard candy.
    A local Drug Store use to have this kinda stuff and I bought several cans (on sale)
    and I ate Christmas Candy most all year long. I still have part of a jar with a plastic
    pouch inside and most of it I really like…Ken

  • Reply
    December 14, 2015 at 9:46 am

    This just makes my mouth water! I have never used a candy thermometer, so I wonder how difficult it is to use. I remember eating this candy as a child, sold by weight in a country store near my aunt’s house in NJ. Thanks for the recipe, and I might just try it. However, as a side note, sometimes I am a disaster in the kitchen.

  • Reply
    Ed Karshner
    December 14, 2015 at 9:39 am

    Thank you Tipper. I say “tin foil” too. But, up here among the Philistines, that is simply unacceptable.
    Anyway, my daughter and I are going to give this a whirl on this rainy Monday. And we will use tin foil.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    December 14, 2015 at 8:59 am

    You make me remember the old-fashioned hard Christmas candy I had as a boy. The varied colors were pretty to start with and the flavors were also very varied: clove, cinnamon, anise, lemon, lime, orange, sassafrass, cherry and a few others I forget. I have looked for years and cannot find it anymore, only look-alike that only tastes like sugar. Christmas hard candy, pecans (or peanuts) and apples are great ‘pocket foods’ to carry in the winter woods. Seems like they are at their very best then.
    I think memory adds something to the flavor.

  • Reply
    Wendy B
    December 14, 2015 at 8:42 am

    We called it glass candy and my grandma made it every Christmas. I like to make it now. Cinnamon is my favorite!

  • Reply
    Janet Smart
    December 14, 2015 at 8:38 am

    I love hard rock candy, too! I think cinnamon and root beer are my favorites. If anyone wants to know how to make it quickly in the microwave they can hop over to my blog. I posted how to do it back in 2009.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    December 14, 2015 at 8:33 am

    That candy is so pretty in the jar. It makes me think of mints, we should give them a try again. How about wehen school is out?

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