Cooking time: 15 minutes
November 25 - St. Catherine's Day
Are you an unmarried woman over 25? Then according to an old Quebec tradition, you'd be a "Catherinette!" But don't worry… put on your apron and start pulling some taffy!
"Grant me, O Lord, a comfortable marriage,
A husband gentle, wealthy, generous and kind!"
Then at twenty-five: "Lord, someone I can stand
Or at least a man of whom I'm not ashamed!"
Finally as the passing years make her more desperate,
As she finds herself getting older and nearing thirty:
"Whichever man you want, Lord, and I'll make do."
But where does this custom come from?
The tradition was brought to New France with the first settlers, but it is to Marguerite Bourgeois, a teaching sister who was an important figure in the young colony, that we owe "St. Catherine's taffy." To attract the attention of her little aboriginal pupils, she decided to make some taffy. She had opened her first school in Ville-Marie (Montreal) on November 25, and she commemorated the anniversary each year by making taffy so that St. Catherine's day also became known in Quebec as "taffy day." It became customary for marriageable girls to make taffy and give some to all the eligible young men in the area to show off their cooking skill. In English Canada and the US, the sweets became known as "kisses," since whoever kissed the girl would win her heart.
There are numerous recipes for taffy. Some are made with water, others with less butter. There is also brown taffy, a more rustic version, made solely with molasses and brown sugar and no refined sugar. My favourite contains corn syrup, an old recipe from Grandmother Albertine that I'll share with you in confidence. Grandpa, who didn't like the taste of the taffy, though he loved to eat, had his own recipe containing cocoa that he made on the sly. His chocolate taffy was sublime, but he would never reveal his secret.
Ideally, taffy should be made by two people. That way you can pull it to a greater length and twist it up as one person holds it. It can, however, be made by one person, but it takes a bit more time. If the taffy sticks to your buttered hands, sprinkle them with a little flour.
Taffy is usually made with salted butter which gives it a unique flavour and counterbalances the sweetness.
- Place the molasses, corn syrup, brown sugar, white sugar, vinegar, cream of tartar and half the butter in a pot.
- Bring to a boil over low heat until the mixture registers 140° C (260° F). If you don't have a candy thermometer, don't panic. You'll just have to test it several times.
- Stir for 5 to 10 minutes. The mixture has to reach the "ball" stage, meaning it's ready when you drop a little of it into a small bowl of cold water and it forms a ball.
- Mix in the baking soda.
- Pour into buttered dishes and let cool slightly until you can pick the taffy up without burning your hands.
- Butter your hands well and begin pulling: pull, fold in half, and repeat the process until the taffy is pale golden, and almost white. If it sticks to your hands, put a little more butter on them.
- Pull one last time and twist up tightly in small lengths. Cut into pieces with scissors.
- Place on a buttered plate or wrap in waxed paper.
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