Caramel a family tradition for this Davie cook

Published 1:17 pm Monday, September 30, 2019

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By Stephanie Williams Dean

Bless Your Spoon


Virginia Coil is no stranger to the gift of the Good News of the Kingdom of God. Although her father, J.D. Blake, was a minister, she wasn’t just a “PK” as she calls it. That stands for preacher’s kid.

Virginia’s paternal grandmother and namesake, known as Grandma Blake (Virginia), was a preacher, too. Virginia’s great-grandfather was, also, and her son, John, is a preacher, today.

“I think I must have come from a tribe of Levites.” That being said, Virginia is no stranger to the gift of giving.  She grew up in a family where all the women on her mother’s side were excellent cooks. Cooking from a family recipe that’s been passed down, Virginia makes batches of homemade candy every year and gives it away at the holidays. She’s earned a reputation for her handmade, stove stirred, and wax wrapped caramels – and trust me – they’re to die for.

A self-described, old- fashioned cook, when Virginia prepares for company, she offers meat with potatoes and gravy – she’s that type of delicious, old- fashioned cook.

Her mother, Dorothy Filmer Blake, was an excellent cook, as well as her mother in law, Fern Coil, who was a farmer’s wife.

Referring to unique dishes prepared from foods grown on her in-law’s farm, Virginia said, “She cooked great big meals and all kinds of things I hadn’t tasted before.”

Virginia believes her mother and mother in law influenced her cooking, although both were because of being from different countries. One was a country girl, and the other, a city girl. “In the beginning, when country met city, it was funny because my mother-in-law didn’t know what to think about my mother.”

But in the end, they were good friends.

Virginia first learned cooking from her mother during the days of the depression. “One time, all we had left in the house was a can of sauerkraut. My mother never liked it, but after she ate it, she liked it.” That can of sauerkraut was the closest they ever came to going hungry.

Virginia has some of her own recipes, but the ones she enjoys most are those from her extended family. Her mother often made goulash during the depression. To this day, Virginia still cooks the simple-but-delicious dish that’s made with tomatoes, macaroni and hamburger.

On Sundays, her family would prepare a dinner of beef roast and potatoes with vegetables and onions.  “We’d put it in the oven to cook for 3 hours, and then go to church. We made enough to last for several days. Mother made this during the depression. We always had a big garden, too.”

Being a preacher’s wife, her mom often had to prepare food quickly to take to those who were sick.

“Mom was a preacher’s wife, so she kept herself looking pretty nice, always,”  Virginia remembers being about 10 years old and living in Ohio when duty called. A family was living in a shack home under the Brooklyn Bridge.

“My mother was at home canning tomatoes, but she got this call from a lady at church who was living under the bridge. She was having a baby but couldn’t reach the doctor. Mom went right away – but the doctor never got there.”

Her mother delivered the baby.

Virginia’s dad had bought a little church for $500. He took off the back wall of the choir loft, pushed it out, and made an apartment where the family lived. Later, her family moved to the edge of Cleveland, where her dad rented a little farm. They had a big garden and grew lots of vegetables. Her mother would can 100 quarts of tomatoes – and Virginia helped.

Her maternal grandmother, Grandma Filmer, was from England. She was another an old- fashioned cook, but being from a different country, her dishes were always different. “For Christmas dinner, we had suet pudding. It’s something I’ve made every year since.”

Her English grandma had a couple of boys, her mom, and her mom’s sister, Aunt Marguerite. Virginia has a collection of treasured recipes that belonged to her grandma, her mom, and her aunt.

She recollects when her father’s mother, Grandma Blake, started a church in her living room with only five people. That church grew to one of 500 people.

“She was too busy to cook. She had someone who came in the home to help with cooking and cleaning.”

When Virginia was 12, the family moved to upstate Indiana.  With her dad being a preacher, the family moved a lot.

Later in life and still on the move, Virginia and her husband went to Florida and retired. Then, they settled in Mocksville in 2012 to be near their daughter, Sally Brill, who lives in Advance.

Virginia keeps alive an old family memory each time she makes caramels from her Aunt Cora’s recipe. Cora was her mother’s sister-in-law.

Along with the homemade, wrapped caramels, she makes peanut brittle every year at Christmas, too and gives it away to friends and family as gifts. Sally often helps with the process.

When making caramels, Virginia shared some advice.

“The trick is taking it off at the right time while making sure it’s thick enough but not too thick.”

When the temperature gets near the 250-degree mark, be sure not to overcook it. Put some water in a cup, and add a little bit of caramel. If you can make a ball of the caramel in the water, then it’s ready to take off the stove.

Virginia’s family has another cooking tradition. They make Christmas cookies together.  A couple of years ago, everyone came – her daughter and husband, granddaughter and her husband, grandson and his wife – they all came and made cookies together. “We just really have a good time when we’re doing it. It takes me back, and I like to reminisce while doing it.”

And at the holidays, Virginia has a good time sharing her gifts. The Bible has much to say about giving and being generous.  “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9: 6-8) NIV

The caramel recipe is easy – it just takes a little time. Virginia has shared a few more of her family’s recipes for readers, and I’ve included a few of my caramel favorites. Enjoy the rich, mellow taste of this tawny, sweet delight as we move our way into October.


1 pound salted butter

4 cups sugar

3 ½ cups light (clear) Karo Syrup

1 quart half and half


Handful of chopped pecans (optional)

In a large, deep pot, slowly heat butter, sugar, Karo Syrup, and 1 cup half and half until boiling. When boiling starts, add remainder of cream in a fine stream while stirring. Continue to boil at a low to medium heat while stirring constantly. This will take an hour or more after the cream has been added. Cook to 250-degrees or when a firm ball will form in a small cup of water.  Then remove from stove, and stir in vanilla and nuts if preferred. Pour into one rimmed, 12 x 18 baking sheet that has been well-greased with butter. Put in the refrigerator immediately to cool. When cool, cut into inch sized pieces. You will need 180 pieces of waxed paper cut in 4 x 4 size.  Makes a full baking sheet or 5 lbs. of caramels.


1 cup shortening

2 cups brown sugar

2 large eggs, beaten

2 large egg yolks, beaten

2/3 tsp. soda

1 cup sour milk (or buttermilk)

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. cloves

2 tsp. cinnamon

½ tsp. salt

1 cup chopped pecans (optional)

With a mixer, cream shortening. Add sugar and continue creaming until light and fluffy. Add eggs and egg yolks one at a time, and beat each thoroughly. Add soda to sour milk. Add sifted ingredients alternately with milk. Spread in a greased and floured 9 x 13 pan.  Cover with chopped nuts. Bake in a 325-degree oven for 35-45 minutes or until done. Ice with caramel icing.


3 cups sugar

1 ¾ cup of vegetable oil

5 large eggs

3 ½ cups self-rising flour, unsifted

3 tart apples, chopped

1 Tbsp. black walnut flavoring

1 cup black walnuts, chopped

With a mixer, mix sugar and oil until well blended. Mix in eggs, one at a time. Add flour and mix well. Stir in apples, flavoring and nuts. Pour into a greased and floured Bundt pan. Bake in a 325-degree oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes or longer until done.


1 ½ sticks salted butter

¾ cup packed brown sugar

2 Tbsp. prepared coffee of milk

1 lb. or more of confectioners sugar

In a saucepan, combine brown sugar, butter, and coffee. Bring to a boil while stirring until all is dissolved. Remove from heat. Stir in 1 lb. of confectioners sugar or more until it is spreading consistency. After cake has cooled, spread with icing.


2 cans Eagle Brand condensed milk

3 Tbsp. strong coffee

1 graham cracker crust

Coffee Whipped Cream

1 cup heavy whipping cream

3 Tbsp. powdered sugar

1 tsp. instant coffee crystals

2 tsp. heavy whipping cream

¾ tsp. vanilla extract

Leave Eagle Brand condensed milk in the unopened can and cover in water. Bring to a slow boil and let simmer for 4-6 hours. Keep covered entirely in water all the time. Allow to cool. Open can, and the milk will be caramelized. Pour into a saucepan, add strong coffee, and heat well. Pour in a graham cracker crust. Top with whipped cream.

For the cream, dissolve instant coffee in 2 tsp. of whipping cream. Set aside. With a mixer, beat cream, powdered sugar, coffee mixture, and vanilla until stiff peaks form. Serve pie topped with a dollop of coffee cream.  There are recipes online for cooking in a crockpot, also.


2 Tbsp. water

½ cup sugar

1 1/3 cup whipping cream, warmed

2 Tbsp. Cognac

1 Tbsp. salted butter

Fresh sliced apples, pears, and bananas

In a heavy saucepan, combine water and sugar. Stir over low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to a boil without stirring until amber in color while brushing down sides of the pan. Add warmed cream to the caramel. Cook over medium-high heat for about 3 minutes while stirring until sauce is smooth. Add Cognac and cook for 1 minute. Remove from heat, and add butter, stirring until melted. Transfer to a fondue pot set over the heat source to stay warm. Can be prepared ahead and rewarmed over medium heat before serving. Serve with sliced fruit.


2 Tbsp. water

4 tsp. instant coffee crystals

1 1/3 cups sugar

6 Tbsp. water

1 1/3 cups sugar

2/3 cup whipping cream

5 Tbsp. salted butter, chopped

Pinch of salt

In a bowl, mix coffee powder with 2 Tbsp. water until it dissolves and set aside.  In a heavy saucepan, add sugar to 6 Tbsp. of water, and stir until sugar dissolves. Heat to a boil without stirring for about 8 minutes or until syrup turns amber. Occasionally brush down sides of the pan with a wet brush. Remove from heat. Add whipping cream, butter and coffee/water mixture. Bring to a boil and whisk until smooth. Stir in salt. Divide sauce between two 8-oz. canning jars. Seal tightly with lids. Refrigerate. Can be prepared up to 2 weeks ahead. Before serving, rewarm over medium heat while stirring. Makes 1 ¾ cups or two 8-oz jars. Makes a lovely gift at the holidays.


8 thick slices (1 inch) French bread

1½ cups toasted walnuts

¾ cup sugar

4 large egg yolks

2 Tbsp. dark rum

4 tsp. instant espresso coffee crystals

1 tsp. water

1 tsp. grated lemon peel

6 large egg whites

Pinch of salt

¼ cup sugar

Caramel Glaze

½ cup sugar

2 Tbsp. water

8 toasted walnut halves

In a processor, grind the bread. Toast in a 350-degree oven for 10 minutes or until golden while stirring occasionally. Reserve ¾ cup of crumbs, and set aside.  In same processor, grind nuts and set aside. Butter and flour a 9-inch springform pan and then line with parchment paper. Butter and flour the parchment paper. With a mixer, beat ¾ cup sugar with egg yolks for 3 minutes or until thick. Beat in rum, the coffee powder that has been dissolved in 1 tsp of water, and lemon peel. Then mix in reserved bread crumbs and nuts. With a mixer, beat egg whites and salt until soft peaks form. Add ¼ cup sugar and beat until stiff. Fold whites into batter slowly, mixing between additions.. Spoon batter into pan. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 40-45 minutes or until done.  Turn out the cake and remove parchment paper. Cool. Turn cake over on an aluminum foil-lined and then greased baking sheet. Pour caramel on top of the cake. For the glaze, in a saucepan, combine sugar and water. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to a boil without stirring for 6 minutes or until it turns amber. Brush down sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush.  Pour icing over cake. Decorate with walnut halves.


¼ cup water

1 Tbsp. sugar

6 oz. log of goat cheese, sliced

Red seedless grapes

1 Granny Smith apple (6 wedges)

In a saucepan, stir water and sugar over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to a boil without stirring for 6 minutes or until mixture turns amber. Brush down sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush. Remove from heat. Cut the apple into 6 wedges. Using a fork, dip apple wedges and small cluster of grapes, one at a time, into the glaze. Transfer to a nonstick sprayed, cooling rack placed over an aluminum lined baking sheet. Divide goat cheese into rounds and place on serving plate. Drizzle the caramel glaze over cheese using a spoon. Add caramel glazed apple and grapes to the plate. This makes a beautiful appetizer.


1 cup sugar

¼ cup water

¾ cup heavy cream

3 ½ Tbsp. unsalted butter

1 tsp kosher salt

In a saucepan, combine sugar and water over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and bring to a boil without stirring. Use a wet pastry brush to wash down sides. Boil for 6-8 minutes until syrup is a deep amber color. Remove from heat and whisk in the cream. The mixture will bubble. Stir in unsalted butter and salt. Transfer to a dish and cool. Serve over ice cream.


Nonstick vegetable spray

½ cup sugar

2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar

1 ½ cups walnuts

Line rimmed baking sheet with foil. Spray foil with nonstick spray. In a saucepan, combine sugar and vinegar. Stir for 3 minutes over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Add nuts, and toss to coat. Transfer mixture to the baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes while occasionally stirring until nuts are dark brown, and syrup has thickened. Cool completely on the baking sheet, and then break nuts apart.