I have taken two comprehensive literary exams this year: the Literature GRE, and the literary history comp exam for my MA program. One thing that becomes engrained into your mind as you study for the world literature portions of these kinds of tests: Gabriel Garcia Marquez's works embody the genre of Magical Realism. In Magical Realism, the setting is the real world, our world, and feelings, actions, and situations are all ones that could happen in real life, but inevitably certain supernatural things happen--often unexplained. I like Realism as a genre, and as a result find Magical Realism to be a tricky line to walk: authors have to be very careful not allow readers to feel tricked ("oh, I didn't know this was a magic world, I thought I was reading historical fiction!"), nor to dwell on the magic parts too much (who wants to read pages and pages of characters acting surprised and trying to puzzle out miracles?). For me, Marquez's genius lies in his ability to make strange and unbelievable events occur in his novels with such a subtle touch that I, as a reader, don't even question whether it could happen in real life--I don't have time to wonder, because the story (like life) goes on. In One Hundred Years of Solitude, ghosts wander in and out of alchemy labs, rain occurs for four years straight, characters live to be 140 years old or more, and the vast majority of the characters just accept these things as true and move on with their day to day activities.
Though I like Marquez's model of Magical Realism, I didn't actually like this book. I read Love in the Time of Cholera a couple years ago for my book club, and thought it was decent, but have been told many times that Marquez's real masterpiece was One Hundred Years of Solitude, so I bought it at a second-hand bookshop. The book follows several generations of the Buendia family as they found, settle, populate, control, lose control of, love, and hate the town of Macondo. The book spans around 200 years (despite the title), and jumps from family member to family member, none of whom is a main character and all have similar or the same names. The book explores repetition between generations, how we pass down good and bad behaviors, how and whom we love and hate and worship and fight. But that's where my problem with the book comes in: there isn't a plot. The writing is cyclical (we often hear about events several times before and after they happen in the book) and the lives of the characters are cyclical, and the whole thing never goes anywhere until the family dies off and the book ends. The book is about generations and what kinds of things we pass down from generations to generations, and I can get into that idea; Zola and Balzac, two of my favorite French authors, both explore similar themes in their works, but their novels and stories actually tell a story. One Hundred Years of Solitude starts to tell dozens of stories, one for each member of the family and some for the townspeople around them, but it never finishes the stories it starts.
One thing I really enjoyed about this book, however, and the main focus of this entry, is the strong role women had in shaping the development of the Buendia family. The matriarch, Ursula, is one of the longest-lived characters in the novel, living almost to 140 years old (the other oldest character in the novel, Pilar Ternera, is also a matriarch of the family, though an illegitimate one). Ursula offers strength, support, and common sense throughout the affairs (business and love), wars, births and deaths that occur constantly throughout the text. She is practical and industrious, and even when she goes blind in her old age, she hides it from her family and runs the household as if she were still in her thirties. And, the reason I am writing about this book at all: she makes candy. Milk candy, to be specific, and shapes it into little animals and makes a living off of mass producing and selling milk candy from her kitchen. I am always interested in food in a novel, not just because I love food, but because it usually represents sustenance: who's giving it, who eats it, and what form it takes is fascinating to me. Here, Ursula, the matriarch, makes milk candy to support her family and offspring, as mothers do (with milk!), but also to keep herself constantly busy--the same way she does by raising her constantly-extending family.
With Ursula making little milk animals every few chapters, I began to wonder: What are these candies? What are they made of, other than milk? ARE THEY DELICIOUS? So I started to do some research into Colombian candy. Though it appears the vast majority of Colombian sweets are dairy based, the dairy desserts are usually caramels or sauces--nothing you could mold into animals that would hold their shape. However, Marquez doesn't set his novels specifically in Colombia, his homeland, so I expanded my research to include other Latin American countries. Dulce de leche, caramels, and milk fudge abounds in Latin American countries, but a specific Milk Candy was hard to come by, until I discovered Canillitas de Leche, a traditional Guatemalan candy made from sugar, milk, and cinnamon.
Canillitas de Leche literally translates to "Little Milk Legs," so called because of their shape. You can use your hands to shape them into these little oblong pillars, so, I figured, maybe someone as industrious as Ursula Buendia could shape them into animals! So I found a recipe online, veganized it, and took it upon myself to make what I think of as Ursula's Milk Candy.
Vegan Milk Candy (Canillitas de Leche)
Depending on the size, this will make 12-15 2-inch canillitas. You will need a candy thermometer.
1/2 C soymilk powder (I used Better than Milk)
1 1/2 C water
2 C sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 Tbsp margarine (optional)
In a medium-sized saucepan, whisk together the soymilk powder, sugar, and water until thoroughly incorporated (ie, no lumps). Turn on high heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture comes to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, and stir constantly until the mixture reaches 240 degrees. This is going to take about 40 minutes, so have a book you can hold with one hand while you stir with the other. Don't let the temperature go over 240, because the mixture will get too hard too quickly when it cools: it's better to err on the side of a couple degrees cooler.
Remove from the heat, take out the cinnamon stick, and pour into a glass baking dish or large bowl, so as much of the surface touches the air as possible. Stir in the margarine, if using. Let the mixture cool until you can handle it. This, too, will take a while. Depending on the room temperature, give it at least half an hour before you go near it--it's very hot! Once you can handle it, roll small handfulls of the dough into little oblong pillars. The original recipe said you can dust your hands with flour to keep it from sticking, though I think having slightly wet hands would also help. Allow them to cool fully before eating and/or storing the ones you don't eat in an airtight container.
The end result has a texture like maple sugar candy, and I know this is going to sound weird, but it tastes a lot like maple sugar candy, too, only without the maple part. I'm not a big candy eater, but they are delicious! The cinnamon flavor is so subtle that you can't quite tell it's cinnamon, but it adds a nice level of complexity. Just a reminder: it's important not to let the recipe go over 240 degrees, because then the mixture will get too hard to work with as it cools. I know because I made this mistake, and only got to make about a third of the canillitas before the remaining dough in the bowl hardened and had to be scraped out. It was still totally edible, but not pretty: