From Hermann, Missouri: Depression Caramels

In the early 1830s, the German Settlement Society of Philadelphia traveled to the lush and rugged Gasconade River Valley. There they founded the colony of Hermann, Missouri; the Society thought the Gasconade Valley, with its green rolling hills, resembled their beloved valley of the Rhine River, and they wanted to establish a German community devoted to farming and commerce in the heart of it.

The colony quickly grew into a town of successful vintners. The rocky hills of the Gasconade Valley, while inimical to farming, proved perfect for cultivating grapes, and large vineyards were planted along the hillsides.

Business was brisk in Hermann until Prohibition, when the vineyards were forced to close. So devastating did Prohibition prove to the town that residents said the Great Depression ravaged Hermann ten years before it hit the rest of the country.

Landscape painting of Hermann Missouri circa 1850
Vista on Hermann, Missouri ca. 1850 via Wikimedia Commons

The following recipe for caramels comes from an old Hermann farming family. Dated 1938, it was found handwritten in a cookbook. Made from readily available ingredients, the caramels were a simple delight during the dark days of the Depression.

Hermann Caramels

2 cups sugar
1 can (1 cup) corn syrup
1 can (1 cup) milk
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup butter
1 tsp vanilla
Nuts, if desired

Put sugar, syrup, butter and salt in a saucepan. Cook into a clear, thick consistency. Add milk gradually so as to not stop the boiling. Cook until a firm ball forms. Add vanilla and nuts. Place in a buttered pan until cool. Put on a marble slab or oiled paper [wax paper] and cut into 1-inch squares. Wrap in oiled paper.


Baumgarthuber, Christine. Fermented Foods: The History and Science of a Microbiological Wonder. Reaktion Books, 2021.

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