I can hardly think of a more delectable gift this time of year than a box of homemade candy fashioned with a world of flavors. Velvety fudge or pralines, toothy caramels, glassy brittle laced with peanuts, pecans, walnuts, almonds or pistachio nuts, remind me of family members and friends from years ago, some near, others far away.
But what I like most about candymaking is that it is a relatively simple process: a sugar syrup is boiled to a certain temperature or until it reaches a specific consistency, depending on whether you are making, say, creamy fudge, brittle or lollipops. Although sugar is de rigueur for candymaking, you only need a few other ingredients -- perhaps a little butter, chocolate, nuts, bits of dried fruit and spices, plus a flavoring or two.
The equipment required is minimal, too: a candy thermometer, a couple of sturdy saucepans, a few long-handled stainless steel spoons, heavy kitchen pads and a dose of imagination.
And, yes, in most recipes you can substitute, for example, black walnuts or Brazil nuts for the pistachios or almonds, or vice versa. It is really your call; and that's what makes candymaking so exciting and improvisational. And sweet.
Joyce White is the author of "Brown Sugar" and "Soul Food." Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.