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Putty helped spur childhood creativity

When I was a little boy, I never dreamed I would one day write for a newspaper. In fact, at that time, the only thing I enjoyed reading was the comics, games and puzzle section. When I was young, the really important news mattered little to me.

At the ripe old age of 11, I decided to enter a contest The Macon Telegraph and News was sponsoring. To enter, you had to read clues over a period of weeks and decide what well-known person from history they were describing. Without any trouble, I came to the conclusion that the person was Sitting Bull. Instead of just sending in my answer, I decided to draw Sitting Bull. You know me. I’m not sure why, but I always have to take that extra step.

I was in class at school when I received the news I had won the contest. I was so elated! That would have been enough for me, but I also won an entire set of World Book encyclopedias and a feature story in the newspaper. That was the first time I was in the newspaper.

One thing that attracted me to the comics section of the newspaper was all the colorful inks used to print it. I can remember some gray colored putty I played with in conjunction with the newspaper. It came in a small plastic egg purchased from the toy section of a store. If my memory serves me correctly, it was called Silly Putty and, with it, you could create anything your imagination could dream.

I can still remember the way this putty smelled, especially when it was new. I created small creatures and pretended they were going to attack upon my command. I made my first examples of fake food,, including tiny french fries and small burgers. And I rolled it out completely flat and pressed it against a colorful cartoon in the newspaper. It amazingly transferred the image directly onto the clay.

To a small child, this process was like making a print. The thing I couldn’t understand was how it could transfer the ink and still leave the image on the newsprint. But the wonderful thing about this putty was it had the ability to magically erase whatever you had printed on it just by rolling it around in your hands. That was incredible to me also. I still want to know where all of that ink went.

I don’t know if they even make it anymore, but when my children were much younger, I remember seeing it on the shelves of a store one day while we were shopping. I picked it up and as an adult was shocked at how small it was. In a child’s mind, things seem a lot larger than they really are, much like our front yard I used to cut as a boy. It seemed huge but when I saw it as an adult, it was actually tiny!

Being nostalgic, I offered to buy my children some of this putty their daddy had loved so much. They were much more interested in looking for Pac-Man and other computer games. I again suggested they take a look at it since it had given me hours and hours of fun and allowed me to use my imagination. I remember them laughing as they tossed the putty-filled egg back onto the shelves. Oh well. It’s hard to compete with modern technology!

I had not thought about Silly Putty, or Play-Doh for that matter, since then until a few weeks ago. I was invited to visit a pre-K class at Skyview Elementary School the day before they were leaving for summer vacation. I didn’t know how I would captivate their attention when the only thing on their minds was getting out of school. Oh, yes, and the pizza party they were having the next day!

To make matters worse, the teachers wanted me to show the children how to create something. I racked my brain as to what I could do with children that age. Then it hit me. I had a recipe in my Four Seasons cookbook for Candy Clay. You make it with simple ingredients like confectioner’s sugar, salt, butter, white corn syrup and flavoring. It is easy and fun and, best of all, you can eat it when you are finished! This is something you couldn’t do with Silly Putty or Play-Doh or, should I say, shouldn’t do. Over the years, I have seen small children eat everything from paste and paper to Play-Doh.

With an electric mixer tucked under one arm and a sack of ingredients under the other one, I headed back to elementary school just about as scared as I was the first day I went as a child. The Telegraph’s Liz Fabian came long with me to film the entire “Encounter of the Edible Clay!”

I made some clay in front of them and we dyed it various colors. They were amazed and captivated. You would not believe some of the fascinating creatures these children created. If you would like to watch the video, go to and scroll down the home page until you see me and click. It will be in the archived videos section.

Now that summer is upon us and all the little ones are at home, restless and looking for adventure, why not whip up some of this Candy Clay and allow their imaginations to go wild? It will not only give them hours of fun, but also provide an afternoon snack as well!

Candy Clay

1/3 cup butter

1/3 cup light corn syrup

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon flavoring oil or extract

1 pound box Dixie Crystals confectioners’ sugar, sifted

Food coloring

Cream butter until light and fluffy. Add corn syrup, salt and flavoring. Gradually beat in confectioners’ sugar. Knead until smooth. Recipe yields about 1 pound of edible candy.


Ÿ Check out Mark’s Web site,, for current projects, recipes and lots of other fun stuff for summer.

Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA 31208; fax them to (478) 474-4390 or call (478) 757-6877.