I received my first valentine well before Saturday, the official date, this year. And since it was such a particularly sweet bequest, I think you all deserve to share in the spoils.
My valentine is a cookbook--the residual of a column written at Christmastime--about homemade candies. In my column I mentioned a favored lost tome on "Candy Hits" by Zasu Pitts. This short but highly informative work was compiled by the late movie comedienne shortly before her death in 1963 and published posthumously. A copy came into my hands as a Christmas present a long time ago and I literally used it to a fare-thee-well. Half the pages were caramelized and the rest were badly streaked with cocoa and vanilla stains.
I lost "Candy Hits" well over a decade ago and never expected to see another copy again. Pitts' book had a somewhat short shelf life in bookstores. However, almost immediately after my column ran, I received more than 50 letters from readers who still had the book in their possession.
Three writers offered me their copies outright with no strings attached.
At least half the number offered to lend me the book so I might transcribe favorite recipes. The other half--declaring they could not bear to part with their mint editions--proposed to copy the book.
In the end, I happily accepted a book--with the caveat that I be permitted to take up the slack on the cookbook shelf with one of my own books inscribed with a debt of gratitude.
Here's a valentine to each and every cookbook lover who cared about my predicament, and let calories fall where they may.
The following recipe is reprinted from Zasu Pitts' "Candy Hits: The Famous Star's Own Candy Recipes" (Duell, Sloan & Pearce: 1963).
ZASU PITTS' CHOCOLATE FUDGE
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup milk
2 (1-ounce) squares unsweetened chocolate
1 teaspoon corn syrup
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup roughly chopped pecans
Generously butter 8-inch square baking pan. Butter sides of medium saucepan. Combine sugar, milk, chocolate, salt and corn syrup in buttered saucepan. Attach candy thermometer to pan. Place over medium heat and gently boil, without stirring, until thermometer reads 238 degrees, about 20 minutes. Test mixture readiness by dropping small amount into saucer of cold water. Soft ball should form.
Remove pan from heat. Add butter, but do not stir. Allow mixture to cool to 165 degrees, about 20 minutes. Add vanilla and beat vigorously until fudge has lost gloss. Stir in nuts.
Spread fudge into prepared pan. Allow to cool. Cut into 1 1/2-inch squares. When completely cooled, remove from pan and store in tightly covered container. Makes 25 (1 1/2-inch) squares.