A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

Ingredients and Supplies 3 cups Dixie Crystals® sugar 1 stick butter 1 cup water 6-8 drops pure peppermint oil (www.lorannoils.com) food coloring (gel-type, such as Wilton’s®) professional candy thermometer (Wilton’s®

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

Ingredients and Supplies 3 cups Dixie Crystals® sugar 1 stick butter 1 cup water 6-8 drops pure peppermint oil (www.lorannoils.com) food coloring (gel-type, such as Wilton’s®) professional candy thermometer (Wilton’s®

Nita’s Buttermints

Ingredients and Supplies

  • 3 cups Dixie Crystals® sugar
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 cup water
  • 6-8 drops pure peppermint oil (www.lorannoils.com)
  • food coloring (gel-type, such as Wilton’s®)
  • professional candy thermometer (Wilton’s® Brand)
  • 3 quart Revereware® pot
  • marble (14 x 26 x 1 inch thick, polished and sealed)
  • rubber spatula (high-heat resistant)
  • metal old-fashioned spatula
  • ccissors (no teeth)
  • metal tin to store mints
  • wax paper

Work Preparation Area

  • Assemble all the tools and ingredients to make the mints.
  • Spread a light coat of butter or margarine onto the entire top surface area of the marble. Room temp marble is sufficiently cold. No need to chill the marble.
  • Lay out your tools for easy access during mint preparation.
  • Have a dishpan or container of sudsy water in which to put your thermometer when you take it out of the hot candy.

Making the buttermints

1. Place pot on burner. Add water and butter. Turn heat on low and melt.

2. After the mixture dissolves, add sugar and mix well with spoon. No need to stir anymore.

3. Place and clip professional thermometer on side of pot. Do not use cheap glass thermometers. They can break and they are not calibrated.

4. Turn heat up to approximately medium high. Bring mixture to a full rolling boil. Note: You have to learn to adjust the heat under your pot. You want it just hot enough to bring the candy to a full rolling boil. My unit has numbers from 0 to 10. I start my candy on 9, then after 5 minutes turn it up to 9.5 and then at about 8 minutes, I turn it up to 10.

5. Set a timer for 15 minutes and watch your time. You never need to cook this candy over 15 minutes. It will reach the right temperature in about 15 minutes.

6. After the candy cooks about 5 minutes, the mixture will “settle” down in the pot some. It is chemically changing and thickening. At this point I turn my heat up a tad. Watch the thermometer, the temperature is rising.

7. At about 8 minutes to 10 minutes, I turn my heat up to 10. The mixture is thickening and at about 15 minutes, you will reach the desired temp of Hard-Ball stage, which is 260º. During the last 5 minutes, watch the temperature very closely. Do not be distracted or you will overcook it!

8. When it reaches this temperature, remove the pot from the unit. Put the thermometer into the sudsy water you have prepared, and with the spatula in hand, pour the hot candy mixture up and down the length of the marble. Clean out the pot quickly with the spatula and run hot sudsy water into the pot to soak while you finish the mint process.

9. The hot candy will spread out very thin on the marble. The cold marble will cool the candy very fast. Add the peppermint oil with a dropper and a very very tiny amount of food color if you want color. They are very pretty with no color at all. Do not make them dark colors, looks awful.

10. Test the edges of the cooling candy by lifting them slightly with your fingers. The middle of the candy area is still very hot, but the outer edges are getting cool and harden. Turn all of the outer edges of the candy into the center of the candy area and smush it down with your fingers and palm of your hands.

11. You want to keep this entire mass of candy cooling consistently on the marble. No hard edges or lumps, etc.

12. You maximize three areas of the marble to cool the candy mixture: the center of the marble first, then the left-hand end of the marble and then the far right-hand end of the marble.

13. After the candy has been at the center of the marble for about 2 minutes, roll it down to the left-hand end of the marble and smush it out to absorb the coldness of the marble on that end. Keep and old-fashioned metal pancake flipper utensil handy to use in case candy tries to stick to the marble. Wait about 1 minute for it to cool at the left hand end.

14. Then roll up the candy and move it to the other end of the marble and smush it out. It will be much firmer and cooler now and you will really have to smush it hard to spread it out. Only experience can dictate the right time to pick the candy up from this point to start pulling it.

15. When you first pick up the candy off the marble, squeeze it into an oblong shape, and pull it out just a little bit. Then loop the end furthest away from you (hold it with your right hand) back over the end that you have in your left hand. Don’t position the ends evenly; lap them over a couple of inches. Then twist the entire loop together and pull it out some. Don’t get carried away and pull it out too far. Just pull it a little ways and then loop it over again, and then twist it together and pull it out again. It only takes about 3 to 5 minutes for the candy to get to the right consistency. You can’t go too fast or too slow or it won’t do right. If you pull it too long, it will mess up. So, timing is everything! The candy gets glossy and harder to pull as it reaches the time to stop pulling it.

16. At a clear spot on your counter (not on top of the marble), pull and twist out the candy into a long rope that looks like a big lasso rope. Cut into 3 or 4 equal segments. Then stretch and twist these pieces out until they are about two feet long. Twisting it makes it pretty and you can just more effectively stretch out the candy if you twist and pull it out into long ropes. With old scissors or OXO brand spring-loaded scissors, snip the candy into half-inch long pieces.

17. Use candy tins that are wide and flat. Put a layer of wax paper in the bottom of the tin. Place half the mints here. Add one more layer of wax paper and add the other half of the mints. A few may stick together, that is fine, as they will break apart after they cure out. Shut the tin and let them cure out for at least 12 hours. If not eaten in one week, store in refrigerator. They freeze really well.

More Insights

  • The most difficult task when you make buttermints is determining the correct temperature for cooking them at your home. It varies because of differences in elevation, humidity, and different brands of thermometers. At my house, I cook them to 258-260 degrees. Keep in mind a rainy day can affect the temp a few degrees. You know you are really good when you can make these on a rainy day!
  • If you undercook the candy mixture, it will be too stringy and soft in your hands when you start to pull it. If you overcook the candy, it will get hard on the marble way too fast and you will panic and try to pick it up and pull it and that is when folks get blisters trying to pull hot candy.
  • Beginners should start with half recipes so it will be easier to handle and pull and if it messes up they won’t have wasted as much. Humidity affects them in the summer, best to turn the air conditioning on and they will behave. It takes them longer to cure out in the winter.

Practice and persistence is all it takes to make buttermints. They are a chemical process and when they mess up, you have to figure out why and correct it when you make the next batch. If you undercook a batch, you can put the candy back in the pot and cook it over. Add the same amount of water and you will have to add the peppermint oil again as it will evaporate out when boiled. Ironically, a batch cooked over tastes even better! It is now your honor and responsibility to pass on this old tradition of candy making. May you meet as many nice folks as I have in this endeavor.

This recipe first appeared in the December 2009 issue of Our State. Nita Whitfield is a five-time blue ribbon winner at the North Carolina State Fair.

This story was published on Dec 20, 2011

Our State Staff

Since 1933, Our State has shared stories about North Carolina with readers both in state and around the world. We celebrate the people and places that make this state great. From the mountains to the coast, we feature North Carolina travel, history, food, and beautiful scenic photography.