'Candy Stews' appeared in a few southern works. In her diary for a Friday in October 1863, Lucy Breckingridge mentioned having a "...candy stew and sat up until 11 o'clock." [Lucy Breckinridge of Grove Hill: the journal of a Virginia girl, 1862-1864]. The story "Jo Suggs at the Candy Stew" in Southern Broad-axe, 1859, told the tale of Jo sitting on a chair with a dish of hot candy at "...Molly Dobs' mammy's ...candy stew... the house was full of galls and fellows, and the candy had been poured out to cool, and was setting all about the room on chairs and tables."
A Virginia candy-stew was described in the book, Short stories, 1894 [condensed below]. The social event involved supper [turkey, Sally Lunn, pickles, waffles], games [forfeits, clap in & clap out] 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 , 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."
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...
The Improved Housewife. Mrs. Webster 1847:
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.
©2010 Patricia Bixler Reber
Candy Pull image 1882