Saturday, January 1, 2011

Molasses Stew

Marion Harland, the pseudonym of Mary Virginia Hawes Terhune, was born (1830) and raised in Virginia. When married she moved north and continued writing fiction, nonfiction and cookbooks. The following is an excerpt from her book, Marion Harland's Autobiography: the story of a long life, 1910. This continues the Candy pulls and Candy stew posting HERE

"On Christmas night we had a "molasses stew." We have learned to say "candy-pull" since then. A huge cauldron of molasses was boiled in the kitchen—a detached building of a story-and-a-half, standing about fifty feet from "the house." Gilbert—the dining-room servant, who would be "a butler" now—brought it into the dining-room when it was done to a turn, and poured it into great buttered platters arranged around the long table. All of us, girls and boys, had pinned aprons or towels over our festive garments, and put back our cuffs from our wrists.

My mother set the pace in the pulling. She had a reputation for making the whitest and most spongy candy in the county, and she did it in the daintiest way imaginable. Buttering the tips of her fingers lightly, she drew carefully from the surface of the platter enough of the cooling mixture for a good "pull." In two minutes she had an amber ribbon, glossy and elastic, that bleached fast to cream-color under her rapid, weaving motion, until she coiled or braided completed candy—brittle, dry, and porous—upon a dish lined with paper. She never let anybody take the other end of the rope; she did not butter her fingers a second time, and used the taper tips alone in the work, and she had the candy on the dish before any of the others had the sticky, scalding mass in working order.

We dipped our fingers again and again in butter and, when hard bestead, into flour, which last resort my mother scorned as unprofessional, and each girl had a boy at the other end of her rope. It was graceful work when done secundum artem. The fast play of hands; the dexterous toss and exchange of the ends of shining strands that stiffened too soon if not handled aright; the strain upon bared wrists and strong shoulders as the great ropes hardened; the laughing faces bent over the task; the cries of feigned distress as the immature confectionery became sticky, or parted into strings, under careless manipulation; the merry peals of laughter at defeat or success—made the Christmas frolic picturesque and gay. I wondered then, and I have often asked since, why no painter has ever chosen as a subject this one of our national pastimes."

The picture is from: Marion Harland's Complete Cook Book, 1903.

©2011 Patricia Bixler Reber

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