16-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today:
Saturday, December 9, 1911: Was exceedingly busy this forenoon. Rufus went to Milton this morning so you see I had all the odd jobs to put in something like order but how long it will stay that way can soon be estimated. Ruthie treated us to candy this evening.
Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:
I wonder what kind of candy Grandma’s sister Ruth made. Taffy is a popular old-time candy.
My daughter and I recently made some taffy using an old Pennsylvania recipe from the early 20th century.
This is an excellent taffy recipe—and I really like that it doesn’t use corn syrup. The taffy was wonderfully creamy and smooth, and it has a nice flavor. It was almost too good–our family ate the entire bowl of candy in one week-end. (I’m trying very hard not to think about the calories.)
Making taffy is a fun family activity. I bet the old-time taffy pulls at parties were a blast.
But be sure to leave enough time. It probably took us close to two hours from start to finish. Don’t try to rush the process—or you may burn it or end up with taffy that doesn’t have the right consistency.
One pound [2 cups] white sugar, one cup water, on-half teaspoonful cream of tartar, one-half teaspoonful vanilla, butter size of a hickory nut. Boil until hard in water. When cool, pull.
Lycoming Valley Cook Book, Ladies of Trout Run M.E. Church (1907)—1992 reprint of book
We combined all of the ingredients except the vanilla; and, assumed that butter the size of a hickory nut was about 1 tablespoon of butter.
We cooked over low heat, stirring until mixture began to boil, then we cooked, without stirring until the boiling mixture reached the hardboil stage.
And, we assumed that “boil until hard in water” meant to boil until the syrup reached the hardball stage.
The hardball stage is when a small amount of the syrup is dropped into cold water. If it can be gathered together to form a hard ball (though malleable when pressed), it is at the right stage—or just use a candy thermometer (255 – 265 degrees F).
We removed from the heat and stirred in the vanilla. We divided the thick syrup into several parts and added additional flavoring (cinnamon oil, strawberry flavoring) to some of it. (We didn’t do it, but you may also want to add some food coloring so that you’ll be able to tell which pieces of candy have which flavor.)
We put in buttered dish; then waited a few minutes until it was cool enough to handle.
We then buttered our hands and pulled the candy until it became creamy and glossy (about 5 minutes). We formed ropes of candy on a piece of waxed paper; then cut with a knife that we periodically dipped in hot water.
Finally we wrapped the individual pieces in squares of waxed paper.