Friday, January 2, 2015

Taffy Pull

I am not young. Of course neither am I old. But as all older folks delight in saying things certainly have changed since I was a child. Some changes have made life much easier. And as I may have mentioned in passing I really like indoor plumbing... no more outhouses for me. But I digress.

Fast food was a thing of the future then. Cake mixes were not used. We started with flour and all the other necessary ingredients and made our cakes from scratch. The frosting for the cake was also made from scratch using a bit of butter, confectioner's sugar, vanilla, and water or milk.

Ready made cereal was too expensive for a large family like ours. Oatmeal, cream of wheat, cream of rice, and corn meal mush were the norm. I usually got up before the rest of the kids because I went to a different school (I was older) so I made breakfast enough for all of us. Then Mom could get a few minutes extra sleep. She had babies to take care of during the night.

For cooked cereals it is just as easy to make a lot as it is to make a little. I certainly did not mind doing it and I had a good hot breakfast to start my day.

There were no tubes of cookie dough to slice and bake. We mixed the ingredients and spooned them onto cookie sheets for snacks. Yum. We could make whatever kind of cookies we wanted to. Every home had plenty of eggs, butter, flour, and sugar. They were what was used in every day cooking.

I always liked to make homemade bread but that was a fun luxury for us. Store bread was inexpensive and a large family tends to use a lot of bread.

One of our favorite snacks was what we called bread-and-sugar. We just took a slice of bread and dipped it into sugar. If we had fresh cream we would spread the bread with that first. It was our favorite treat and so easy to make.

In the evening when we watched TV it was good to have a snack. One of our favorites was fudge and popcorn. We said it as one word because we felt they went together so well.

Of course fudge was a process. You had to mix the cocoa, sugar, butter, and vanilla with water. Then you had to cook it to just the right consistency. When you dropped one drop of fudge into cold water and it made a soft but definite ball it was done cooking. Then you had took stir it continuously until it hardened. Then pour it into a cake pan and it was ready to cut into pieces to eat.

This was also before microwave popcorn. It was even before Jiffy Pop. To make popcorn we heated a bit of lard in a pan until it was very hot. Then we put the popcorn kernels in the pan, placed a lid on top of the pan. Holding the lid in place and shaking the pan over the heat until the corn was done popping could be tiring for your arms but it was worth it. A little salt and Voila there was popcorn to go with the fudge.

One year Daddy decided we could save a lot of money and have some good family fun by shelling our own popcorn. He bought a couple of bushels of popcorn on the cob. We made a night of it. We all had containers to hold the kernels of popcorn that we removed from the cobs. All we had to do was hold the cob and use our thumbs to push the kernels off. I had a blister at the end of the night that I remember as being almost as big as my thumb. Maybe a bit of an exaggeration but it did hurt and it was big.

Mom cooked all sorts of things and taught us all (boys included of course) to make all these marvelous things from scratch. Cookies, candies, cakes, pies, breads... you name it we probably made it.

Then she found a recipe in a woman's magazine for some cookie bars. They were delicious and quickly became a family favorite.

She kept playing with the recipe until she had the best cookie bars ever. We all wanted to learn how to make them. She always said she had too much to do right then but next time she would show us. Next tiem there was another excuse.

My sister was helping Mom make Christmas cookies once and Mom was making her specialty. She had a recipe written. My sister sort of glanced over Mom's shoulder and Mom quickly closed her cookbook.

My mother died without ever sharing her recipe. And the recipe has never been found. We have all tried to make those cookie bars but they are never quite right. And somewhere my generous, giving, unselfish mother has a sly grin on her face.

Another fun family event was making taffy. It is another candy that needs to be cooked until the ball is the right consistency. Then we would put butter on our clean hands and as soon as the candy was cool enough to handle we would pull it.

We would take an amount of the candy and stretch it and fold it over until it hardened. It was such fun.

My granddaughter wanted to make rock candy. I remembered those science classes where we used strings to collect crystals of candy and make strings of candy. I was not looking forward to it. Then I found a recipe online that solved the problem.

We make the mixture of sugar, light corn syrup, and water. It is cooked until it reaches the hard rock stage. I use a candy thermometer now because it is so much easier than testing for the right consistency.

When it is ready we add whatever flavoring and colors we want and stir them in quickly. Then we pour it into a cookie sheet sprinkled with powdered sugar. It takes no time at all before it is ready to break into small pieces. It is the best hard candy ever.

When I was pregnant with my first baby my husband was working as an assistant candymaker. He enjoyed that job and was anxious to show off his new talents. He was going to make peanut brittle.

I was thrilled. I like peanut brittle and my husband had never cooked anything before. I sat back and let him go to it.

He cooked the candy and then he poured it out onto the kitchen table. Big mistake.

At work they had a huge marble slab to pour hot candy onto. Marble is not porous. My formica table was.

Armed with wet towels, spatulas, trowels, chisels, and several friends it took us hours to remove the peanut brittle from the table.

If I make a cake which is seldom these days I use a cake mix. It is easier and to be quite honest it is cheaper. But they do not have quite the same taste as the ones from scratch.


  1. A very interesting post, Emma! I think that making your own stuff is not only tastier, but also healthier (and you know what is in it) and more fun - especially with cookies, or the smell that of freshly baked bread that lingers in the house.
    I have a very special Brownie-recipe that I only make before Christmas, and I never told the recipe, till I shared it on my former blog "You are witty and Pretty" (son bakes).
    Making fudge is work :-), making popcorn: fun. My grandma taught me to make yeast dove with the words: "When you are really angry, make yeast dough: you have to hit it hard to become wonderful." True!

    1. There is an art to making bread. I was only about 6 years old when I began making bread and sweet rolls every week. As an adult I found working the dough to be very therapeutic.

  2. Funny how when it feels nothing's changed but when you look back, everything's not the way it was the last time you remember. Hey, I didn't know you make bread and that you know how to do so from scratch? Wow. That's amazing. I wish I can do that too. Baking has never been crossed out of my bucket list. :D

    1. The trick to making bread is temperature. If the liquid is too hot or too cold the yeast will die. Everything else is just mixing and kneading. If you ever try it there should be a good recipe on the yeast package. To make the sweet rolls you simply sort of flatten the bread dough and sprinkle it with a cinnamon sugar mixture. Then roll it into a log and slice it into "pucks". Place them into a buttered pan with sides like a cake pan. If you like you can put more of the cinnamon sugar mixture on the butter first. Let the "pucks" rise then bake. If you like you can ice them as soon as they cool. Let me know if you try it.

    2. OMG, I'm like drooling while reading this! LOL.
      I'm imagining a freshly baked buttery bread. Excuse me while I head out and buy myself some bread. But, thanks for the tips. I really appreciate it. :D

  3. Why did our lives get so busy we need to do everything at super fast speeds, maybe it is time for us to go back to the basics,

    1. Homemade food does taste better but there is something to said for convenience. I have to admit that I seldom take the time to be creative with food any more. Cooking for one just is not as much fun.

  4. I remember those days Emma:) Much of what I've written in my books and on my blog were from this vein.

    1. I often think of how hard the pioneers in the prairies had it when they first settled. Then I think that is what my grandchildren must think of the time I grew up with no fast food or electricity (or indoor plumbing). Time marches on.