Picture the scene. You’re walking through a Swedish market, your young daughter holding your hand. She sees row upon row of sweet candy canes, bright luminescent swirls of sugar and mint that gleam in scarlet and white, holly leaf and ivy, forming hearts and stars, curled canes and smooth drops before her very eyes.
She looks up to you and says (and you may need to concentrate for this part), “Daddy, do you know how to make candy?”
“Of course,” you reply, faster than chocolate melts on a hot summer’s day. “What’s more, I’ll learn how to become a master craftsman and open my own shop in the southern Swedish town of Malmo.”
Isn’t that what any father would do?
Well, that’s exactly what one father did in the Swedish region of Skåne.
Henrik opens the door one Sunday morning and ushers us all in. It’s December, it’s early and the day has barely entered into its teenage years. It would be perfect to say that snow (or at the very least frost) dusted the streets like icing sugar from the gods but the gods weren’t playing along. It was winter, yes, cold yes, but when it came to atmospheric precipitation, absolutely not.
The shop, on the other hand, did oblige with lashings and lashings of fairytale charm.
Flasks of violet and lemon liquid stood watchful on the shelves. Glass jars brimmed with round raspberry drops, flanked on either side by haughty humbugs. A fresh sweetness filled the air; a light stickiness coated the floor.
In the shop window, gingerbread elves called out to imaginary passersby, while back on the inside, it was strictly down to business.
Henrik, as you may have guessed, doesn’t do things by halves. Before this, he worked as a nurse anaesthetist in the helicopter rescue service in London, a job requiring precision and efficiency, which he brings to the task in hand.
Here in Skåne, he watches the thermometer closely, as the sugary solution begins to bubble.
We’ve added a tablespoon of vinegar to over a kilo of sugar beet, splashed in 250 mls of water (from Skåne, naturally) and sloshed into that a healthy squirt of starch.
The mixture bubbles slowly as we wait for it to reach the 150 °C mark.
We wait. I take photos. Thus far, it’s as exciting as boiling potatoes.
I glance around the shop. I send a tweet or two.
All of a sudden, things change.
“Stand back!” roars Henrik, grasping the pan with both hands and pouring its contents over the marble. The syrup traps the bubbles, frothing and foaming them into an ever expanding whirlpool, as a molten sugar waterfall cascades down on top of them.
I stand back.
And then lean in to take photos.
Henrik tames the mixture into two even-sized trays. To one, he adds a few drops of Hotchkiss peppermint; to the other, some lice blood.
The fairytale has changed, the villains have arrived, sweeping in on broomsticks and wild dragons, squeezing ferrous lifeblood out of detested infestations.
Perhaps I’ve misheard. Perhaps something has come undone in translation.
“I, er, wonder if you could spell ‘lice blood’ for me?”
“Oh, I see. Yes. Thank you very much.”
I pretend to write it down and vow to consult the sorcerer Google later on.
The lice blood, meanwhile, has turned one pool of sugar a deep, malevolent red. Henrik folds the mixture over and over itself to a rhythmic tak-tak-tak as the sugar sticks and unsticks, sticks and unsticks to the protective layer of plastic around it.
After a while, he uses only his gloved hands, folding and folding the stickiness until it forms meshed golden strands of angel-light hair. He hangs that lightness on a metal hook on the wall, twisting it back and forth, around and around, up and down, becoming breathless with the effort of creating magic.
Back on the marble, the colours have changed again, to a fuchsia pink and a soft cotton white. Henrik rolls them out like plasticine – and then it is our turn.
He snips the sugar caterpillar into chunks for us to play with.
My imagination ran wild. I dreamed of @insidetravellab candy, heart-shaped candy, my name and those of my family spelled out in loopy home-cooked genius.
My hands got to work.
There is a grace, as ever, that descends on those with talent, one that rarely lands on me.
As it turns out, molten sugar cools really very quickly. And as it does, it turns to stone. Not for nothing is Brighton Rock called rock.
Since sugar solidifies faster than my neurons transmit information, my only hope was to shove a lollipop stick into the shapeless blob on the counter and mutter something about it being “impressionistic art.”
Ah well, something to tackle on perhaps another day. Along with finding out about lice blood. Then again, maybe it’s better not to know.
Abigail King is a writer and photographer who swapped a career as a doctor for a life on the road. Now published by Lonely Planet, the BBC, CNN, National Geographic Traveler & more, she feels most at home experimenting here: covering unusual journeys, thoughtful travel and luxury on www.insidethetravellab.com