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Farmer Boy: Our Adventures with Molasses Candy Pulling

"...Alice mixed sugar and molasses and water, and boiled them; then she poured the candy on buttered platters and set it on the porch to cool.
They rolled up their sleeves and buttered their hands, ready to pull it...

The they all pulled candy. They pulled it into long strands, and doubled the strands, and pulled again. Every time they doubled it, they took a bite. It was very sticky." -Farmer Boy
I have always liked the idea of making your own candy. Somehow the chemistry of sugar mixed with the homeyness of making something sweet in your own kitchen makes it so appealing. And yet, despite all this, I am not good at it. I saw this recipe for Molasses Candy, and thought it would make a lovely book connection to celebrate our finishing Farmer Boy...

Pulled Molasses Candy
Combine in a saucepan...
4 Tablespoons butter (and extra for buttering your hands)
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then turn the heat down, but keep the mixture boiling.
Stir the mixture until it reaches 250 degrees on a candy thermometer (about 20 minutes.)
Carefully pour the hot mixture onto the buttered platter and let cool at least 10 minutes before handling so it won't burn our hands. Butter your hands well and pull off a handful of the molasses mixture and stretch it as far as you can without breaking the strand, fold it back together and stretch it again, over and over until it begins to turn pale and creamy. Stretch the candy into long ropes about 1/2 inch thick and cut the ropes into 1-inch pieces. Let the piece cool completely before eating them.
Source: The World of Little House, by Carolyn Collins and Christina Eriksson

I shall now tell you about the three times we tried to make it. Yes, three times. I can say that each time we tried, it became more like what we wanted.
The first time was perhaps the most amusing. During the middle of boiling a syrupy combination of brown sugar, molasses and margarine, Katie leaned over and said, "I think there is something green in it!" My attention immediately went to the green spoon I was using to stir with which I had thought was a heat-proof plastic. I pulled it up and found that half the spoon was gone, melted into the candy. I dumped the concoction in the sink to wash the pot out to start again, and,of course, it hardened in my sink drain. We did get it out and washed our pot.
For the second attempt, we used a metal spoon. This time, we kept the mixture boiling but didn't start measuring the temperature until we were about 10 minutes in, since it said the whole process would take approximately 20 minutes. When I put the thermometer in, it climbed to 250 degrees and probably would have gone beyond that point, but I didn't measure any more after I saw it cross the 250 degree mark.  We poured it out onto a butter glass dish, but when the candy cooled enough for us to begin pulling it, it had hardened instead to a hard candy which upon tasting, tasted like burnt sugar.
The third time, I followed the directions as closely as I could, leaving the thermometer in the pan for the entire time. When the temperature climbed gently to 250 degrees, I poured it out into a glass pan and let it cool enough to touch, buttered our hands (Katie and mine that is -James didn't feel well enough to participate, although he did watch, and Quentin decided to be cameraman since it looked to messy for his taste. Who ever heard of too messy for a 7-year old boy?) and got to work pulling...
The mixture seemed too sticky from the start,
 as it wanted to stick to our hands more than pull into nice long, straight strands.
After working with it for quite some time, it did change to a lighter color and the consistency seemed thicker and stronger.
We did manage, finally, to get it into a thick enough strand that was firm (and not sticky) enough to stay put. We cut it into bite-sized pieces and it was tasted all around.
It still was stickier than the salt-water taffy I am used to buying and its flavor was purely molasses. In fact, Steven said that he thought that it the flavor wasn't that much different than just eating molasses it self.
I still don't think I quite got the taffy-making process down yet, but I think we got enough of an experience with it to appreciate how hard it was for the pioneers to make candy, (and they didn't have a candy thermometer) and an idea of what it was like.
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Have you had any experiences with making candy?

5 comments:

  1. Well, it was an experience, right? LOL I love molasses, but this looks like it would be too sticky for me. (I don't like Taffy or anything similar.) The only candy we've made is fudge (with sweetened condensed milk). Oh, and we made homemade Twix bars yesterday! Yum! I'll post the link to the recipe tomorrow.

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  2. I'm always tempted to try taffy pulling, but I understand it can be a LOT of work. My folks used to have a taffy pull with the church youth group every year - I think that sounds like so much fun...maybe in a couple more years :)

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  3. Sometimes it is all about the experience. All that for a piece of candy. I am sure it is one of those things that would be perfected over years of making it. It does make you realize that we are spoiled with modern conveniences. My girls and I made lemonade and heart shaped cookies from a little house cookbook when they were younger- I think we chose the easier road!

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  4. Wow, that looks really STICKY!! The final product turns out well though.

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  5. I stink at making candy. My few attempts have failed miserably. I have a friend who insists I should keep trying, but...... It's not my thing. I have however melted a couple of spatulas so I feel your pain.

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