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Volume X, No. 1, Fall 1982
By Gina Jennings
Photographs by Allen Gage, Scott Jeffries and Gina Jennings
Carl looked amazed when Lois Beard put a handful of semi-firm, hot, brown molasses taffy into his greased hands. "What do I do with it?" he asked.
"Pull it out as far as you can, then double it over and pull it out again," Lois answered.
"It's hot!" Deidra shrieked.
"Keep it working or it will burn," Lois cautioned.
Cindy and Cherie were already pulling out long strands of candy as if they grew up pulling taffy every day. "What if it breaks?" Terri asked.
"Just put it back together and keep on pulling," Lois said.
Bittersweet's first taffy party was a great success with Lois Beard's help. We were invited to her home to mess up her kitchen with the sticky taffy. How she could stand having ten of us, we'll never know but we appreciated her hospitality.
It was quite an experience for anyone who had never pulled taffy before. At first everyone was real eager to find out how to pull the taffy, and at the end everyone was wanting to know when it would be done. But in the middle we talked about everything from boyfriends to wrestling practice.
The facial expressions changed from beginning to end also. At first every-ore was laughing and having a good time. Then as the taffy began hardening and it was harder to pull, the expressions were more strained or worried as our hands were wearing out. Cindy and Deidra had pulled the taffy so strenuously they had blisters on their hands. The tantalizing smell, the smooth feel of the candy and look of the taffy almost broke down our resistance not to eat the candy until it was completely done. It was especially hard for the three photographers not to sample it. We were all given strict orders not to touch the sticky and buttery taffy while taking pictures because it would get on the cameras. We had to wait, too.
Different people pulled the taffy different ways. Deidra and Cherie liked to team up to pull their taffy together, attacking it as if they were in some endurance contest, while Cindy and the others pulled by themselves.
We stretched the taffy out as far as we could and then folded it back together and stretched it out again over and over. We were amazed at first at the candy's elasticity and fascinated at the gradual change in the feel and color of the candy as we pulled. To tell when the taffy was pulled enough, instead of stretching it out, we overlapped it and twisted it until it wouldn't budge. We broke it into small pieces and wrapped each individually.
Finally, after all the long waiting, seeing, handling and smelling the taffy, we got to make pigs of ourselves and eat the taffy.
This whole process had started an hour earlier when Deidra and I began cooking the taffy. While the two batches of candy were heating up in the two heavy iron skillets, Lois remembered the good times she had when she was a child and when there was a taffy party at her house. "One time we had a taffy party and someone got tired of pulling the taffy and they tossed it out the door. The next morning I saw this old sow that had the piece of taffy in her mouth. She was just a-working on it and she couldn't swallow it.
"When I was young, we had to make our own fun. We would always meet in our homes. Our home was always open to the community and children of the neighborhood. This is some of the things we did --popping corn, making popcorn balls and making taffy. We always had plenty of molasses and usually always had sugar, but it helped out to have molasses. Now I don't think we ever had all sugar taffy. We'd used sugar in other candy like fudge or divinity. But taffy was fun when the young girls and boys would all get together and they'd pull their candy together. Then of course, they'd get it in their mouth and tangled up in their hair. But it was always one of the good times we had when I was young.
Lois took Terri's piece. "Put it together and twist it like this. See how pretty it is now with these amber stripes going all through the candy?" she said.
"We never had anything for just the family alone. Our neighborhood was great to get together. We always had a group around us. It would be the neighbors who lived close. Maybe we'd play rook or flinch--that was a good game. We'd play a game awhile then maybe we'd pop corn or have a bunch of apples or walnuts to pick out. We'd always have something to eat on and it was something off the farm. It wasn't anything that we went to the store for. We didn't have anything like we have now 'cause we didn't go to the store but once every year or two.
Each person had a different reaction to handling the candy. Carl said, "It's like pulling a rubber band that won't come back in."
"We learned to get together and have good times. Like in the summer time we played games outside. Usually at night, we would play games and have lots of music like the piano and organ. But making taffy and getting together to pull it was our favorite pastime. You know you'd have lots of fun with a bunch of your halfway sweethearts. Then depending on the appetites of the ones that was there, there might be some left the next day that the younger ones would eat."
Lisa pulled and pulled. "What's the trouble?" Lois asked. "I can't get this little knot out of here," she said.
Deidra exclaimed, "Oh, my hands hurt." She pulled so hard she formed blisters. Listening to Lois we almost forgot the candy on the stove.
"Mine is finally beginning to boil," I said.
"I think mine is burning," Deidra answered.
Deidra and I each cooked a batch of taffy. Not ever cooking taffy before or not knowing what to expect, I stirred mine very fast, not wanting it to burn. Then being in such a hurry I spilt it out on the stove. So as not to make the same mistake Deidra stirred hers too slow, almost burning it.
We each had different recipes, Deidra using the old-time, all molasses method when sugar was not always available and I using the sugar and molasses recipe.
"Does it help when you twist it real hard?" Cherie asked.
2 cup molasses
1 T vinegar
chunk butter, size of egg
Melt butter in iron skillet. Add molasses, heat slowly, stirring constantly until you reach the hard crack stage. Remove from heat and add vinegar. Pour out on buttered plates or platters and when cool, pull until hard.
MOLASSES AND SUGAR TAFFY
2 cup sugar
1 cup molasses
1/4 cup water
2 tsp. vinegar
2 T butter
1/2 tsp. soda
Butter sides of heavy skillet. In it combine sugar, molasses and water. Heat slowly, stirring constantly till sugar is dissolved. Then bring to boil, add vinegar, continue stirring and cook to light crack stage. Remove from heat, add butter, sift in soda and stir to mix. Pour out on buttered platters and when cool pull until hard.
"You won't think it is neat when it's stuck on your glasses," Cindy told Allen.
After we finished pulling the taffy, we laid it on the plates. Later we broke them into bite-size pieces and wrapped each piece individually to keep for later. Hungry as BITTERSWEET staffers always are, we couldn't eat it all!
Terri asked Lois, "When it breaks do put it back together?"
While Deidra and I were cooking the molasses for about twenty minutes, the others were getting the plates ready for the hot taffy. Everyone buttered plates, platters and hands with a stick of butter. For awhile everyone looked like a greased pig daring someone to try and catch them.
Each of us had a plate apiece, buttered down for the taffy. Since everyone learns from their mistakes, we learned that pouring a small amount of taffy on several plates was better than pouring the whole recipe on one big platter. The small amount cooled faster and was a lot easier to handle. We poured the first batch of taffy out on one big buttered platter instead of several plates, but it took a lot longer to cool. When we thought it was cool enough on the edqes to hold it, it was still burning hot and runny in the center. On individual plates, it took about five minutes to cool the taffy to be able to start pulling. Lois pulled the taffy off the plates and handed each of us some.
The taffy was very pretty, the color depending upon whether it was all-molas-ses taffy or partly sugar in with the molasses and on how long it was pulled.
Our all-molasses taffy was very dark, due to the dark molasses that we used. But using the same molasses, the sugar and molasses taffy was light because the sugar toned the molasses down.
Of the two different candies, the sugar and molasses taffy was the most colorful. When we twisted it when it was almost done, the taffy formed into swirls of different shades of amber and light brown. The all-molasses taffy stayed the dark brown though it did lighten some in color as it was pulled.
Some of the kids liked the taffy and some didn't. The sugar and molasses taffy was somewhat like the name Bittersweet. It was kind of bitter and it was kind of sweet, giving, I thought, a tasty blend. The all-molasses was strong--it tasted just like the molasses.
Those of us that went to the party liked the taffy, but when we came back to class and passed the individual wrapped pieces of taffy around, there were different reactions. Jill said, "I love the taste of the molasses taffy." But Kirsten barely licked her piece of all-molasses taffy, made a face, and threw it in the wastepaper basket.
Whether we liked the taffy or not wasn't important because the candy was soon gone anyway. But the pleasure of all of us being together with Lois in her big sunny kitchen, having fun, yet accomplishing something is important to me. We don't do things like this much anymore.
Cindy really has to strain to pull the taffy when it is almost ready.
We found that pouring the hot taffy into small plates to cool made it easier to pull because it cooled much faster.