Things that remind me of Little House on the Prairie: Calico dresses, chopping wood out by the lean-to, and horehound candy. Though I've never worn calico and have only the vaguest idea of what a lean-to is, I have at the very least experienced horehound, the old-fashioned hard candy Laura and Mary Ingalls Wilder loved so much.
My first taste was at the Allentown Fairgrounds Farmers Market in lovely Allentown, PA. Always a sucker for old-fashioned candy, I'm drawn to anything that looks like it has the potential to break a tooth: Mary Janes, Bit-O-Honey, and jaw-stretching salty licorice. Naturally I had to try this prairie treat when I spied it among the scrapple and pickled beet eggs.
Well bless you, Laura and Mary. Because let me tell you something: This stuff is intense. It'll practically singe your nose hairs off from the inside, it's so strong. What is that flavor, I was dying to know: Anise? Molasses? Some kind of deep-dark hidden root foraged along the tree roots in a forgotten forest? Because seriously, it's no joke.
Now, what you might not know is that I do a little bit of recipe testing for Guideposts. An inspirational magazine based around the power of positive thinking, its stories are sometimes accompanied by recipes, such as a recent one for this ol' grandpa favorite.
Which means I actually got to find out what that flavor was: Horehound, a yerba maté–like mess of stems and ground leaves used in folk medicine to treat things like digestion problems and sore throats. It has appeared in candy form since the 18th century, and of course our friends the Ingalls Wilder family just loved the stuff.
Never having made hard candy before, I was (wait for it...) pretty nervous to try. But this actually worked like a dream, and now we have a ton of these little suckers (literally) around the house.
Want to try it yourself? Check out the recipe on Guideposts—and rest assured it's been successfully attempted by yours truly.