Filling Holiday Wish Lists with Toffee

By DIANNA TROYER

With painstaking precision, Hymas stirred a steaming, bubbling mixture of sugar, butter, water, and corn syrup in a pressure cooker to make another 8-pound batch of toffee, a two-hour labor of love. Every October, he begins filling orders for his popular Christmas gift.

“Last year, I made 96 pounds for the holidays,” he said, while working at home in Moore. “That’s a lot of toffee. People tell me they like the texture of my toffee. It’s smooth and firm, without being too hard, and melts in your mouth.”

Hymas began making holiday toffee several years ago because his wife, Evelyn, wanted to give clients at her photography studio a homemade gift.

“When we first gave it away, people liked it so much they asked us where we bought it and started ordering it for holidays,” said Evelyn. “Other people heard about it by word-of-mouth.”

They soon had so many orders that they began selling it to cover the costs of ingredients.

When people asked Hymas for his recipe, he used to share it. “I finally quit because the toffee won’t turn out if the steps aren’t followed exactly. The sugar keeps trying to return to its crystalline structure and can become gritty if it’s not heated properly.”

Evelyn said, “It takes a lot of effort, and most people don’t want to bother. It’s easier just to get a batch from us.”

The ingredients must be simmered at certain temperatures for specific times, with or without a lid on a pressure cooker, depending on different stages in the recipe.

To control the quality, Hymas modified a pressure cooker. With a welder, he cut openings in the lid, allowing him to monitor the cooking process. He also suspended a motorized paddle from the lid to stir it constantly.

“I learned along the way, too,” he said. “After the toffee is spread on a cookie sheet and  starts  to  cool,  the  melted  butter  has to be  removed,  or  the  melted  chocolate  won’t stick.”

As he worked, he and Evelyn reminisced about how certain Christmas gifts have been life-changing. When Hymas gave her a camera for Christmas in 1985 to take pictures of their seven children, she enrolled in photography classes. She eventually opened successful photography studios in southeastern Idaho and became an award-winning photographer, while Hymas processed her prints.

Last year, they sold their studio in Rigby and semi-retired. Based at her studio next to their house, Evelyn still takes photos for clients who are flexible with their schedules and the timeframe of delivery.

“We’re at a point in our lives where we want to have more control over our time,” said Evelyn, of herself, 67 and her husband, 69. “If we want to take a week off to go see our kids, we can without worrying about work commitments.”

Whenever Hymas needs a break from making toffee, he stirs up flavored popcorn. Sharing a few tips of his most popular flavors, he said, “The caramel corn turns out best with dark brown sugar. The cinnamon is made with an oil, and the root beer with flavoring. The fruit flavors that kids really like are made with Kool-Aid: green apple, cherry, lime, orange, watermelon, and berry.”

After Hymas makes the edible gifts, Evelyn arranges them in decorative baskets or tins.

To keep his toffee-making secrets an ongoing family tradition, Hymas has made several batches with his grandson Chase.

Despite the toffee’s popularity, Hymas and Evelyn have no intention of expanding their holiday hobby into a business.

“That would take all the fun out of it,” said Evelyn.

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