Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Snacking State-by-State: New Jersey IV - That Daffy Taffy

Throughout diners and along boardwalks and seashores in New Jersey, you will find more comfort food than the Jersey Devil can shake a stick at.  There is pizza.  There is the classic "ripper dog" - crunchy and split on the outside, soft on the inside.  And there is salt water taffy, commonly found down here when you go to Ocean City, MD, or Rehoboth Beach, DE.  Did you know that salt water taffy comes from Atlantic City?  You want to take a bet on that?

Official Name: State of New Jersey
State Nicknames: The Garden State
Admission to the US: December 18, 1787 (#3)
Capital: Trenton (10th largest)
Other Important Cities: Newark (largest), Jersey City (2nd largest), Paterson (3rd largest)
 Northeast, Mid-Atlantic; Middle Atlantic (US Census)
RAFT NationsClambake
Bordered by: Delaware and Delaware Bay (southwest); Pennsylvania (west); New York (north and northeast); Atlantic Ocean (east)
Official State Foods and Edible Things: honeybee (for the honey, not the bee); brook trout (fish); knobbed whelk (shell)
Some Famous and Typical Foods: Italian, Italian, and more Italian; diner foods; pork roll (aka Taylor ham); "ripper" dogs and various preparations thereof; very diverse cuisines (inckluding Italian, Indian, South American, etc) around Philadelphia (southwest) and New York City (northeast); Did I mention Italian?

The origin story of salt water taffy is one of those funny, quaint ones you might find on the side of, well, a box of salt water taffy or something.  As pointed out on the Virtual New Jersey Shore website, salt water taffy is not made with salt water - though you probably knew that already.  So what gives with the name?  VNJS says there were a few different stories about the origin - one says that confectioner David Bradley called his taffy "salt water taffy" after his shop (and his taffy) got soaked by ocean water [VirtualNewJerseyShore 1999].  Regardless, the person who popularized it was Joseph Fralinger.
One thing is certain though: It was Joseph Fralinger who popularized the salt water taffy and became Atlantic City's Saltwater Taffy King. Fralinger realized the potential of selling the candy to bathers and boardwalk visitors, and he saw there was a market for taking home the taffy as a souvenir. As an experiment, he boxed up the candy and he coudn't keep up with the demand. [Virtual New Jersey Shore 1999]
I've never made taffy before.  In fact, I've made very little candy at all before.  So in the name of science, here's what I can do now in case the Candy Kitchen is closed and I am in desperate need of salt water taffy.

The Recipe: Salt-Water Taffy

Out of all the recipes I found,the most straight-forward came from the Accidental Scientist website, which gives not only ingredients and tools but also explanations for why some of the ingredients need to be added.

* sugar (had it)
* corn starch (to make it smooth - had it)
* light corn syrup (to keep the taffy from crystallizing)
* butter (had it)
* water (also had it)
* salt (this too)
* glycerin (the food-grade, candy-making kind, not the topical kind.  This is to give the taffy a creamy texture.  it is, apparently, optional.  The only place I could find the edible kind of glycerin was in the candy & cake section of Michael's, made - what a surprise - by Wilton)
* food coloring and flavorings (while you don't have to have these, it'll taste better.  I used vanilla for some of the batch, and almond extract for the rest)
* In addition, you will need squares of parchment or wax paper to wrap the pieces of taffy in.

Put the sugar and cornstarch in your pot or saucepan, before you start heating it.

Next, add the corn syrup...

...the glycerin...

and the butter, water and salt.

Turn on medium heat and stir until it begins to boil.  It's best to use a wooden spoon for this.

Once it begins to boil, stop stirring and wait for it to get to somewhere between 270 and 290°F (soft crack stage - that is, if you take a bit of the sugar mixture and drop it into water, it'll disperse as threads.  When you pull it out, it will be slightly pliable before breaking).

Use a pastry brush - or in lieu of that, a wet piece of paper towel held by tongs - to wipe down the sides.  This keeps extra pieces of sugar from falling back in and recrystallizing.

When it reaches the soft-crack stage, take it off the heat and add whatever food coloring and flavoring you plan to add.

I wanted different kinds of taffy.  This batch was yellow and vanilla-flavored.

This batch was red and almond-flavored.

Pour the taffy onto a greased cookie sheet, or marble slab.  This latter thing wasn't an option, since I don't have a marble slab lying around anywhere.  It is thick enough that these two taffies won't mix with each other very much.

When cool enough to handle, oil or butter up those hands and get to pullin'.  You will need to pull over and over again for several minutes.  The recipe says ten.  I got good results with five, but should have gone longer to be honest.

Hey, you try pulling taffy with greasy hands while taking a photo of you in the process of doing this!

Roll or pull into a 1/2 inch rope.

Grease a knife or pair of kitchen shears and cut the taffy rope into one inch pieces.

As the taffy sits and hardens a little, cut up your parchment into squares.

With all the stirring, oiling, cutting and boiliing, this was the most tedious part.

This is my first taffy-making experience.  This taffy is more buttery and just as sweet as any I've bought before.  It's also a little tougher.  One thing I noticed: the pink taffy ended up being harder than the yellow.  I'm not exactly sure why.  Maybe I pulled the yellow taffy longer, or had more oil on my hands when I did it? Sadly, after a few hours the pink taffy was just so rock hard that, in the interest of not breaking my teeth, I had to throw it out.  The yellow taffy, however, stayed chewy, and again I am not sure why.  Anyway, they both taste lovely (when the pink taffy was edible, anyway), and now I don't have to spend $10 on a box the next time I head to Rehoboth!

- - - - -

It's time to leave the Jersey Shore (seriously, I hate that show).  Now we head from the Northeast to the Southwest, and see what the Land of Enchantment has to offer.  It's green chiles and frybread galore in New Mexico.


Accidental Scientist (Exploratorium).  "Saltwater Taffy Recipe".  Date unknown.  © The Exploratorium,, 2011

Cristaldi, Justin R.  "Little Italy Across the Hudson".  PRIMO Magazine, September/October 2001.  Copyright Cristaldi Communications 1999-2001.

Giudice, Teresa, with Heather MacLean.  Skinny Italian: Eat It and Enjoy It - Live La Bella Vita and Look Great, Too!  Hyperion: New York, 2010

Jersey Pork Roll (  "What is pork roll?"  Published 2005.  Copyright JerseyPorkRoll 2011.

Schwartz, Arthur.  Naples at Table: Cooking in Campania.  HarperCollins: New York, 1999.

Stern, Jane, and Michael Stern. 500 Things to Eat Before It's Too Late. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: Boston, 2009.

Virtual New Jersey Shore (  "Salt Water Taffy at the Jersey Shore". Published 1999.  Copyright New Jersey MetroNET, Inc., 1999.

Some information also obtained from Wikipedia's "New Jersey" page and other pages, and the Food Timeline State Foods link to "New Jersey".