Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Salt Water Taffy

You know what that is, don’t you?

The stuff that sticks to your teeth?

Sure you do, but, BOY IS IT GOOD!

“What is YOUR favorite flavor, Mike?”, you say.

Well, I do like MOST of the flavors, but when you eat the REAL, home made Salt Water Taffy, especially if it’s “dragged” right off the puller, I like VANILLA best. In chunks, not just in “kisses”. They’re OK, but to get a big “glob” of Vanilla, right off the puller, you can’t beat it, for my money.

(That is, if it’s Stanley’s vanilla! What you get in stores these days, all wrapped up nice, not too sticky and all, DOES NOT “hold a candle” to Stanley Powell’s Vanilla Salt Water Taffy. In my opinion, of course.)

Oh……Strawberry is good; Black Walnut tastes fine; and, I like Mint some.

But, did I tell you that Vanilla right off the puller is the best? Well, I meant to.

I never knew much about Salt Water Taffy, until my sister Miriam married Stanley Powell from Springfield. He was a partner with his brother-in-law Bill Coffelt (the founder of the Coffelt Candy Company), and he and Bill (along with Bill’s son, Dwight, in later years) visited various State and County Fairs each summer, making, and selling, Salt Water Taffy, right on the Fairgrounds.

After some years, Stanley split off from the Coffelts, and went out on his own. He and Miriam spent nearly all summer every year, going from one site to the other, mostly here in the Midwest.

When they WERE in this Midwest area, Jean and I - along with our “kids”, would occasionally visit the Powells at some of the Fairs.

I remember one year at the Ohio State Fair when we visited, one of the parts on Stanley’s Candy Wrapping Machine broke and he had to get it fixed. Couldn’t shut down the place, since selling the candy was what “made the wheels go ‘round”, as they say.

He found a place on North High Street in Columbus that could either fix, or replace that part (I don’t remember which), so he asked me to go pick it up.

He stayed, and made more candy - to be wrapped when the wrapper was fixed.

He had a special recipe he used in the candy that made it taste special. It was a secret recipe, and though later on when I helped them for maybe a week at a time on my vacations, I had to know what went into the candy, but for the life of me I can’t remember what were the ingredients, but I followed his instructions to the “tee”. So, I couldn’t reveal the recipe, even if I wanted to.

The first time I went out with them, the biggest problem I had was keeping the syrup (main ingredient) from sticking on the floor. Actually, I found out that the easiest way to keep it off the floor was to NOT SPILL IT! For that first week, Stanley spent a good bit of his time, either cleaning up the syrup on the floor, or eventually, having me do it. He NEVER spilled it, by the way.

A feature that I NEVER got on to, was how high to cook the “batter”, depending on the heat and/or humidity on the Fairgrounds. The humidity really determined the temperature on the big Candy Thermometer stuck in the mess.

Stanley would say, “We’ll cook it at 248 today”, or whatever temp he thought was best.

The Thermometer was not a little glass thing like Jean used when she made caramels at Christmastime. This one was BIG, attached to a long, wide wooden “paddle” that stayed in the candy until just the right time. At the beginning, it was stirred. When the time came, (whenever that was, I never figured out), there was to be NO MORE STIRRING. Just watching the thermometer on the “paddle”, determining when to “turn off the gas”.

When that time came, the candy had to be poured out in a buttered pan for cooling (twenty pounds at a time, actually). When it cooled enough (I didn’t know when that was either), it was lifted off the pan and “loaded onto” the “puller.

Here is picture of plans for a puller:

You’ve probably seen a puller. It has these four crooked arms that rotate, (on some models, a stationary arm as well) and “pull” the taffy until it becomes the right consistency (whatever that was). Loading it onto the puller was a big task in and of itself. If the taffy was too soft, or even too hard, it didn’t “load” properly.

Actually, now that I think about it. You could partly tell when it was “pulled” long enough, by the color and texture of the candy.

I’ll never forget the first time I “tasted” a glob of that Vanilla after Stanley reached into the puller cabinet, and pulled off a big chunk for me. I don’t remember when that was, or where. That wasn’t important. What WAS important, was the taste of that Vanilla Taffy.


After the taffy is “pulled”, and of the right consistency, the puller was stopped, and a worker (eventually me) took it off, formed it into something like a long “python”, making the end smaller and smaller, until it would fit into the “wrapper”.

The Wrapper was one of the most ingenious machines I’ve ever seen. It was noisy “as all get out”. It had a large roll of waxed paper on one side that was fed into the wrapper just right, and when it came out the other side, it had been cut; placed in one of the “jaws” of the machine, then as the wheel rotated, a knife cut off just the right amount of candy to be placed in that paper. Then as the wheel was rotating, a pair of wire “twisters” reached over and twisted the paper around the candy.

By the time that piece made it 'round the wheel, it was “pushed out” into a basket, all wrapped and ready to sell - and EAT.

My recollection of it is that there were not too many of those Candy Wrapping Machines in the country, and Stanley and Bill had several of them. When parts were needed, one of the older machines was “cannibalized” for parts, and he was back in business again.

The wrapped candy was then laid out on a long table in front - each flavor by itself - waiting to “mouth water” some kid, or adult.

Though most people had favorite flavors, the most popular was a mixture. Those of us down by the table gathered up a variety, or whatever the customer wanted, put it in a box on a scale measuring a pound, then closed and put it in the customers’ hands.

A favorite question the Fair Goers had was: “Got any samples?” We didn’t - generally.

One of the results of my several trips with them (one fair at a time, actually), is that I now sleep on a relatively hard bed.

When I was with them at the Michigan State Fair in Detroit the first time, Stanley put a mattress right on the floor of the truck, beside the puller and wrapper for me, and I “slept like a log”. There was some noise on the Fairgrounds, even at night, but I still slept right through. Since I took their mattress in the truck, they went to a Motel.

Ever since, I require a relatively hard bed. In fact, in Chicago after that, Jean and I put a plywood board under our mattress. Felt just like the one at the Fair.

Where we lived in Chicago was in an apartment on the second floor. Right across the hall from us was an elderly couple. Mr. Libkeman was in his nineties, and though his wife was elderly, she worked some time during the day at Smucker’s. At that time, Jean kept watch over him for her.

Jean and Mrs. Libkeman got to talking one day about beds, since she had back trouble.

Jean told her about putting the plywood in the bed, so somehow, she arranged to put one in their bed. They got it themselves.

The next morning, Jean asked her how they liked their bed this way, and she said, “It was OK, but the board was so hard, it made my back sore”. Jean checked, and lo and behold, she had put the plywood ON TOP of their mattress, rather than underneath, and they tried to sleep on that board!

We all had a good laugh about that.

I guess Mrs. Libkeman’s bed had very little to do with the story I was telling about Salt Water Taffy, but as I do so many times, I just wrote what came into my mind at that time.

That’s called “free association” writing.

free as·so·ci·a·tion

1. spontaneous expression of thoughts: the spontaneous and uncensored expression of thoughts or ideas, in which each one is allowed to lead to or suggest the next

Encarta ® World English Dictionary © & (P) 1998-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

I do it all the time on this blog. YOU know it!


dadart said...

Grandpa Mike, looks like you may not be looking at this blog anymore but wanted to say "Thanks" for your posting on Salt Water Taffy. I worked two summers, traveling with Miriam and Stanley Powell selling taffey and sleeping in the supply truck on top of syrup cans. Especially remember the Michigan State Fair in Detroit when we 'snuck out' to buy a carload of sugar from grocery stores instead of paying higher prices to the fair 'mafia'. Loads of good memories.

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