I just got back from a search for red hots. After spending a nice day yesterday inside while it rained, I decided I needed to make some stewed apples — always a sign when I was a child that my favorite seasons, fall and winter, had arrived. My mother made stewed apples by cooking apples in a pot of water with copious amounts of dissolved red hots. So my shopping list was: apples, red hots.
I made the mistake of looking for these items while I was shopping at Central Market, the somewhat snooty gourmet food emporium. I eat a lot of apples, but I almost never cook with them, so it was a bit daunting to be confronted with 158 varieties of apples from which to choose. My mother couldn’t remember what type of apples she used to use, but she said she had just baked a tart using Gala apples, so I figured I’d give them a try.
Then I headed over to the section of bulk foods hoping to find some red hots. You can buy just about ANYTHING in the bulk section — including two weeks’ worth of bulk oatmeal for seventy-nine cents, but if you have a hankering for the — let’s face it — rather plebeian red hot at Central Market, you’re out of luck. The closest I came was a bin of Hot Tamales. I had only ever really seen Hot Tamales at movie theaters, and as I almost never partake of such hideously overpriced foodstuffs to chew on absent-mindedly while watching a movie (unless they are the somewhat elusive Sugar Babies), I’d never tasted one. They looked suspiciously like jelly beans. I asked a fellow shopper (a young woman who looked like she might have been in town for the Texas-OU football weekend — i.e. the drunken, vomit-soaked “Red River Shoot-Out” that descends on Dallas every year) if a Hot Tamale was, in fact, similar to a red hot. She didn’t know but fearlessly pulled the lever on the big plastic container and we both popped Hot Tamales into our mouths. Well … ick. I can’t stand the texture of jelly beans, and this was, basically, a Contac Time-Release capsule-shaped cinnamon-flavored jelly bean. Not the sort of thing I would imagine would “melt.” So I left with my apples and my scones and my stuffed salmon and my oatmeal, but without one of the two things I had actually left the house for.
I stopped at 7-Eleven on my way home. Afterall, 7-Eleven has lots of candy, right? … Well, they don’t have red hots. I saw a box of — hey! — Hot Tamales (“Chewy Cinnamon Flavored Candies” — “The Choice of NASCAR!”) and I decided to take a look at the ingredients. Not only didn’t I see mention ONE of cinnamon flavoring (natural or artificial), I saw that Hot Tamales are basically a tantalizing combination of corn syrup, modified food starch, pectin, something called “corn protein glaze,” carnauba WAX, and — yummy — mineral oil. So, no, they probably wouldn’t melt (hell, they probably don’t even digest), BUT one might buy a box of Hot Tamales safe in the knowledge that one could always — in a pinch — stick a wick in one for an emergency makeshift candle. (I suddenly feel duty-bound to forward this potentially life-saving tip to Hints From Heloise.) I bought a little box — just in case my candy search proved fruitless and I got desperate.
But worry not, I DID manage to track down a bag of red hots (aka “Cinnamon Imperials”) from the omnipresent Brach’s candy display at a nearby drugstore. Apple-stewing shall commence shortly. Like the smells of fresh-cut grass, smoke from wood-burning fireplaces, cucumber slices, chocolate chip cookies in the oven, popcorn in the basement of the old Sears store where our family shopped when I was about eight, and vanilla extract — the smell of stewed or baking apples wafting from the kitchen makes me feel calm and happy. So the Red Hot Search (as pedestrian as it was) was worth it.
Those apples call. I’ll go find a sweater I haven’t worn in months and curl up on the couch and watch an old black and white movie while I’m happily surrounded by the smell of apples and cinnamon. And I’ll look outside where it’s gray and rainy and I’ll imagine Autumn really IS here — brisk and chilly and full of promise. Maybe I’ll light a little Hot Tamale and bask in the glow of my NASCAR-approved candy votive. And I’ll be happy today.
After a second taste of Hot Tamales, I realize that they’re basically capsule-shaped gummi bears dipped in some sort of cinnamon-flavored candy shell. Two steps removed from wax lips!
Personally, I like using the red hots because they give the apples that frightening bright red color I remember from my childhood — one of those colors you can only really obtain with artificial colors.
My stewed appples were a success!
4 small baking/stewing apples, cut into six wedges, peel left on, but cored
2 cups water
1/2 cup red hots
Bring water to a boil. Add red hots and stir until dissolved. Add apple wedges. Turn heat down and simmer, covered. Stir occasionally. Cook for twenty minutes, or until soft (but not falling apart).