Old-fashioned candy fun
Food writer Holly Ebel says making taffy, along with the requisite taffy pull, can be a fun family tradition for this candy-centric holiday.
We're just days away from one of the biggest candy days of the year.
Here comes Halloween, trick-or-treaters and lots of mini-sized Snickers, KitKats, Butterfingers, M&M's and Skittles; the top seller. Each year we purchase nearly 600 million pounds of sweet treats to put in the little one's bags. That's a lot of sweets for one day.
As a prelude to the day, and a pre-Halloween activity that's a little bit different, how about an old-fashioned taffy pull? I see you rolling your eyes. Really? Yes, this goes back decades when these were big social and family activities.
Louise Heim of Rochester recalls taffy pulls in her grandmother's kitchen with a crowd of cousins all taking turns at the pulling. "Sometimes the pulling was hard work but it was worth it and a lot of fun," Heim said. "It was delicious."
Making candy is usually reserved for the holidays but taffy is one sweet that has no season; anytime is good. Ingredients are simple, water, sugar and from there recipes add several different ingredients. Basically you are turning a sugar syrup into a delicious treat. What's unique about taffy is that you can add color and flavor of your choosing.
As Heim said, the pulling takes some muscle power but it doesn't take long until the taffy reaches the right consistency, especially if you have a helper or two. What pulling accomplishes is capturing little air bubbles inside the mixture for softness and chewiness. That same process has been going on for well over 100 years.
While you are deciding if you want to do this or not, there are a few pointers that will make this venture a success. These can also be applied to just about any candy making activity, not just taffy:
- Choose a day with no humidity. Things can go south if it's a high humidity day. A cool, dry day is the best.
- You'll need a 3-4 quart heavy saucepan to keep from scorching or burning the syrup. If by accident this happens, you have to start over.
- The most important thing is a candy thermometer. It should be one that attaches or clamps on to the side of the pan so that your hands are free to stir. There are also some with a probe that you insert into the candy mixture. It should also not touch the sides or bottom of the pan. This simple tool can be the key to success or failure in any candy-making venture.
- A wooden spoon for stirring and a small pastry brush to wipe down sugar crystals on the side of the pan.
- Also important is not to hurry or rush. You're working with a very hot sugar syrup so stay focused, no distractions.
- Keep youngsters at a distance during the stirring, and the pouring of the liquid onto a buttered rimmed sheet pan. When it cools down enough to handle — maybe 8-10 minutes — you can lift it up and begin the pulling. Now all can get into the act.
Something interesting: When Topps baseball cards were first introduced in 1951, taffy was included in the pack. However it turned out that the cards' varnish tainted the taffy so Topps then switched to bubble gum.
Taffy pulls are a lot of fun, and I encourage you to give it a try, if not now sometime soon. It was a part of my childhood, and I loved the activity, but especially the sweet end result. And who knows, maybe like trick-or-treating, it might become a family tradition.
Salt water taffy
2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup light corn syrup
3/4 cup water
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon flavoring of your choice (LorAnn flavoring recommended. )
In a heavy saucepan mix together sugar and cornstarch. Stir in corn syrup, water, salt and butter. Place over medium heat and stir until sugar dissolves. Cover pan and bring to a boil for 2-3 minutes. Uncover, place candy thermometer in pan and cook to 266F. Take off heat and add food coloring and flavoring oil. Stir gently and very carefully pour onto a shallow greased pan to cool.
When cool enough to handle, grease hands and pull back and forth, pulling it over itself, until light and has a satiny gloss. Pull into a long rope, then cut into pieces and wrap in waxed paper squares, twisting the ends. Makes 50 pieces.
Post Bulletin food writer Holly Ebel knows what’s cookin’. Send comments or story tips to firstname.lastname@example.org .