Monday, December 27, 2010

Candy Stew, Candy Pull and other pull parties

Candy pulls, candy stews, molasses pulls, sorghum-stews, and a taffy-pulling were popular parties in the 19th century.  Numerous descriptions and recipes...

One definition, from A Dictionary of Slang...1897 was: "Candy-pull (American), a candypull is a party of both sexes at which molasses or sugar is boiled and pulled by two persons (whose hands are buttered) to give it proper consistency, and then mixed and pulled again, till it becomes true candy." As described puckishly in the magazine Puck, "The necessary materials and plant are a goodsized warm kitchen, a number of active young women, aged from fifteen upward, several dudes and non-dudes—none over twenty-five — a large supply of white aprons, a larger supply of table-napkins, a well-heated cooking-range, two or three copper stew-pans." [Puck. NY: March 6, 1884]

'Candy Stews,' the old styled term, appeared in a few southern works. The social event could be a spontanious event to entertain children and unexpected guests as when Lucy Breckingridge returned home with guests on a Friday in October, 1863. [Lucy Breckinridge of Grove Hill: the Journal of a Virginia girl, 1862-1864]. Candy Stews were also well planned with meals and activities, for social or birthday parties, or as rewards for school, church and other groups.

"Moses Parker conducted school here at an early date, [c1860] and at the close of the session gave his pupils and friends a "candy stew." [Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society, 1902] Vasser College held freshmen candy-pulls [1875], it was suggested for Christmas Socials [Luther League Review, Lutheran Church in America, 1920], and even among a listing of incentives in the chapter "Candy Pull System in the Church" [Church Folks by Ian Maclaren. 1900]

A Virginia candy stew could be more involved, with supper and games, as described in the book, Short stories, 1894 and Which: right or wrong? by Mary Leona Moreland. NY: 1883 [condensed below]. A detailed description of a Christmas molasses stew by the famed writer and cookbook author, Marion Harland, will appear in a later blog posting. The social event involved food [turkey, Sally Lunn, pickles, waffles; hot cream biscuits, pies, cakes, big dumpling pie], games [forfeits, clap in & clap out; Patty Bump, Queen Dido's Dead, and Blind Man's Buff] and twisting the molasses into wreaths, sticks, chains, swans, baskets and braids, then wrapped in paper to take home.

The popularity of the Candy Pulls varied according to The Dictionary of Slang [1897], which stated the ..."old-fashioned amusement known as a candy-pull has had more or less of a revival in society this season. ... it was quite popular about twenty years ago as a society entertainment, but it seemed to run its course and died away. At that period candy-pulls were given in some of the most aristocratic mansions on Fifth Avenue, and the rollicking scenes were oftentimes quite democratic in the fun, however full-dressed might have been their presentation."

As for the type of candies for a candy pull, Table Talk, vol. 6, 1891 recommended plain molasses candy, yellow jack, and cream candy. The article's recipe to make Molasses Taffy/yellow jack included boiling New Orleans molasses, then ..."turn into greased, shallow pans to cool. When partly cold mark into squares, or it may be pulled until a light yellow, and then it is 'yellow jack.' ... The 'yellow jack' may be twisted into thick sticks; it may be braided, or it may be pulled out in long, rope-like pieces, and cut with an old pair of scissors into little drops."

In 1847, Mrs. Webster's Improved Housewife had a recipe for Molasses Candy which included: "If you wish to make it yellow, take some out of the tin pan while it is yet warm, and pull it out into a thick string... it will gradually become of a light yellow color, and of a spongy consistency. When it is quite yellow, roll it into sticks, twist two sticks together, and cut them off smoothly at both ends. Or you may variegate it by twisting together a stick that is quite yellow and one that remains brown."

The pans of hot molasses were put in a cool pantry or were setting all about the room on chairs and tables to cool. In the story "Jo Suggs at the Candy Stew" in Southern Broad-axe, 1859, Jo sat on one of the pans. Mothers and cooks often disliked the mess that could result on the floor and clothing, which is why Puck suggested "...a large supply of white aprons, a larger supply of table-napkins." [Puck. NYC: March 6, 1884] "All of us, girls and boys, had pinned aprons or towels over our festive garments, and put back our cuffs from our wrists." Marion Harland's Autobiography: the story of a long life. 1910[Mary Virginia Hawes Terhune. 1830 VA -1922 NY]

Nuts - peanuts or pecans - could also be used in the candy at a Candy Stew. "If you think you could hook a saucepan of molasses from old Esther, let's have a candy stew upon the grate here. I didn't mean to tell you yet, but I've got a lot of peanuts in my pocket...When we had shelled the peanuts and added them to the boiling syrup, I found a tin plate, and Jimmie poured into it the contents of the saucepan....leaving the plate in the open window." [St. Nicholas: a monthly magazine for boys and girls, 1896] "If you prefer the candy with ground nuts, roast a quart of them, shell and blanch them, and stir them in gradually, a few minutes before you take it from the fire." [The Improved Housewife. Mrs. Webster 1847]

Molasses, sugar or sorghum could be cooked down into candy. "Before the war had progressed very far, the growing scarcity of sugar led to the extensive cultivation of sorghum which served well to substitute molasses and syrups... in Virginia. The sorghum crop was abundant in the fall of 1864 and notably so in the counties below Petersburg. Once, in October or November, 1864... a message came to me from Benson asking permission for his men to attend a candy stew to which they had been invited by some young ladies living very near where they were stationed." [A Lieutenant of Cavalry in Lee's Army. George William Beale. 1918]

Taffy pulling hooks, attached to the wall, enabled one person to pull the candy. For pictures and a short film, click HERE

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Short Stories: a magazine of select fiction 1894:
I met Elsie for the first time at a "candy-stew." This form of entertainment was very popular in Beulah, [Virginia] as they generally included a sumptuous repast.
...Mrs. Jones made me take her [Elsie] in to supper, and I was so overcome with pleasure that the delights of roast turkey, Sally Lunn, sweet pickles and waffles seemed pale by comparison. ... After supper we played such old-fashioned games as forfeits, and clap in and clap out, while we were waiting for the boiling molasses to arrive at the right consistency for moulding into wreaths and sticks of goldenbrown candy.
... We were all very merry, as, with hands covered with flour, we twisted the dark, sticky masses of candy into golden bands and chains, and with much applause the more skillful ones fashioned swans, baskets and braids.
...[they went home] with a bountiful supply of candy wrapped in paper...

Which: right or wrong? by Mary Leona Moreland NY: 1883Bridget brought out the big kettle, with the sugared molasses for the candy, giving at the same time one of her usual warnings, " Don't forget to set it in the sink, when you take it off." The desired promise was given, and for once kept. As the occasion was in honor of Cutis's birthday, he was the cook of candy.

There was a constant demand for snow to test the candy. Finally, it was pronounced done, ready for the working of it. What a time they had! Then it was cut evenly by the girls, and laid in buttered platters. It was then borne in triumph to the cool pantry.

"It's immense I" cried all, when it was brought from the pantry. This treat was followed by the supper of hot cream biscuit — such as never found save in a farm-house — with honey, huge pies, and all kinds of cake. The big dumpling pie was placed ' in the middle of the table.

After supper, they played some of the games, common specially among country people, "Patty Bump," "Queen Dido's Dead," and "Blind Man's Buff!"

The Improved Housewife. Mrs. Webster 1847:
Molasses Candy.
Take two quarts of West India molasses, one pound of brown sugar, and the juice of two large lemons, or a teaspoonful of strong essence of lemon ; mix, and boil the molasses and sugar three hours, over a moderate fire, (when done it will cease boiling, and be crisp when cold.) While boiling, stir it frequently, and see it does not burn. After boiling two hours and a half, stir in the lemon juice. It will be improved by grating in the yellow part of the rind so fine as not to be visible when boiled. If the lemon is put in too soon, all the taste will be boiled out. When it is quite done, butter a square tin pan, and turn the mixture in to cool. If you prefer the candy with ground nuts, roast a quart of them, shell and blanch them, and stir them in gradually, a few minutes before you take it from the fire. Almonds may be blanched, cut in pieces, and stirred in raw, when the sugar and molasses have just done boiling. If you wish to make it yellow, take some out of the tin pan while it is yet warm, and pull it out into a thick string, between the thumb and fore-finger of both hands. Extend your arms widely as you pull the candy backwards and forwards. By repeating this a long time, it will gradually become of a light yellow color, and of a spongy consistency. When it is quite yellow, roll it into sticks, twist two sticks together, and cut them off smoothly at both ends. Or you may variegate it by twisting together a stick that is quite yellow and one that remains brown.

Table talk, Volume 6 1891:
Plain molasses candy, yellow jack, cream candy, are all appropriate for candy pulls, in fact, the only kinds that are usually pulled. However, -chocolate caramels and nougat candies may also be made. ...

PLAIN MOLASSES TAFFY.
Put a quart of New Orleans molasses in a large saucepan; allow plenty of room for boiling. Boil thirty minutes, stirring constantly to prevent overflow. If you find it coming quickly to the top of the saucepan it is better to lift it for a moment. After it has been boiling for thirty minutes, add a half teaspoonful of bi carbonate of soda, and continue boiling and trying in cold water until it is brittle and will not stick to the teeth. Add a tablespoonful of lemon juice and turn into greased, shallow pans to cool. When partly cold mark into squares, or it may be pulled until a light yellow, and then it is "yellow jack."

In pulling candy, see that the hands are well oiled, and that you have a good, strong hook securely fastened in the window frame. When the candy is sufficiently cool to handle, take it in your hands, throw it over the hook and pull towards you. When you find it is likely to break from the hook, throw it over again, and so continue until it is finished.

A word of caution: Grasp the candy firmly in "your hands, make the candy move and not the hands, or before it is half done the palms of your hands will be full of blisters.

The "yellow jack" may be twisted into thick sticks; it may be braided, or it may be pulled out in long, rope-like pieces, and cut with an old pair of scissors into little drops.

Marion Harland wrote about a Christmas night Molasses Stew HERE

©2010 Patricia Bixler Reber
hearthcook.com

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