By Diane Forrest
When I was in high school every October was one of my favorite months. Cooler weather, football homecomings, Halloween and the State Fair. Every year a group of us would head out to the fair to ride the rides and eat all that great food. I would always get a caramel apple with nuts on it, and a box of taffy. The scent coming from the taffy area was so wonderful that you weren't human if you could walk past and not get a box or bag full.
During the visits to the fair I would often think about hosting a taffy pulling party for my friends. I was reading a story about a 99 year old lady who lived in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. Times then were hard, during Spring, Summer and Fall everyone kept busy with crops and chores, but during the winter months there wasn’t alot to do other than a few chores, like keeping livestock warm, and keeping themselves warm. The men would whittle and make toys or furniture from wood, while the women would knit, make quilts, and embroidery. When asked what activities the teens would do, she described the taffy pulling parties. “Many families made molasses and the ones that didn’t usually bought molasses from their neighbors. Molasses was cheaper than sugar and more plentiful than honey so it was the sweetener of choice in the mountains. Many of the winter activities involved food because if they had to keep the stove burning to stay warm, they might as well cook something too!
Teenagers would gather at a friend's house for the taffy pull and then the molasses would be brought out and the taffy candy recipe started on the wood cook stove. As soon as the candy was cool enough to handle, it would be cut into smaller portions for pulling. Usually boys and girls would pair off as partners for the pulling. If they tried to start too soon, there would be blistered fingers where the hot candy stuck fast to their skin.
The taffy had to be pulled for a long time. It would be strung out thin and then roped together and pulled again until the candy was a light honey color. The couples would try to think up fancy ways to fashion their candy to look the best – sometimes they'd pulled it out thin and then braded it elaborately. When the candy became too cold, it wouldn’t stretch any more, and the ones who misjudged the timing would end up with large ugly lumps, still edible, but not easily. The trick was to cut it into bite size pieces at just the right time.
An enjoyable afternoon would pass quickly and the departing guests would take home the taffy they pulled to enjoy later. Perhaps many a girl saved a special piece of taffy for a long time that had been wound into her boyfriend’s initials. And, perhaps if there was any jealousy, a girl or two might go home with some taffy that just accidentally got stuck in her hair! “According to the Mountain Laurel.
Today is National Taffy Day, run down to your local candy store or grocery store and grab some to celebrate the fun, or if you want to try to make your own, here is an old family recipe to use from a 1950's Brer Rabbit Molasses Cook Book.
- 1 ½ cups Mild or Full Flavored Brer Rabbit Molasses
- ¾ cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 teaspoons cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon lemon extract (optional)
Combine molasses, sugar, butter and vinegar. Cook slowly, stirring constantly, until mixture boils. Boil slowly, stirring constantly toward end of cooking, to 260 Degrees F. (or when a small quantity dropped into cold water forms a hard ball.) Remove from heat. Add lemon extract. Pour into greased pan; when cool enough to handle, grease hands; pull taffy until light in color. Stretch in long rope; cut in small pieces. Wrap each piece in waxed paper. Makes about one pound.