By CINDA CHAVICH
I'm not exactly sure where the love originates (my Scottish grandmother?) but when Hallowe’en season rolls around, I'm always in search of chewy molasses kisses.
Like the dense, dark holiday fruitcake we love in my family (and definitely a recipe with Scots provenance), the dark molasses pulled taffy candies that still pop up in stores in October, are my weakness. And like fruitcake, this is one of those old-fashioned foods that inspires both adoration, and disgust.
While I’m definitely on the “love” side of the Hallowe’en kisses continuum, it’s a treat that its detractors love to slag. When one national newspaper called the kisses “the worst Halloween candy,” Kerr’s, the Canadian candy company that has been making them for more than 75 years, responded with a social media campaign defending their candy legacy. Haters kept the debate going but lovers weighed in, too. If a product lasts for that many years, I’m thinking they must be doing something right.
So what’s story? Molasses kisses are definitely a Canadian thing, with roots in the candy makers of Southern Ontario. Kerr’s is the classic (and best version, IMHO), made in St. Thomas, Ont., with corn syrup, dark blackstrap molasses and coconut oil, while a similar lighter confection is made by Original Foods in Dunneville, Ont., just a couple of hours away, with lighter “fancy” molasses.
You’ll find both in drug stores and supermarkets at this time of year, the latter marketed in BC under the Shopper’s Drug Mart Carnaby Sweet house brand.
I prefer the molasses-forward flavour of Kerr’s, which first sold sweets in 1895, and was founded by Edward and Albert Kerr after they immigrated from Scotland to Canada. Molasses candy definitely has even earlier Scottish roots — “The Steamship Brand” made by Stewart and Young in Glasgow — and Kerr’s was a Canadian brand with Scottish flair and tartan packaging, which could be why this kind of candy turned up in my own childhood household. The molasses candy was first offered by Kerr’s in the 1940s, and the company still markets their kisses as “a Canadian Hallowe’en tradition.”
According to my research, production of Kerr’s molasses kisses has actually increased every year to meet demand. So whether because of nostalgic seniors or new converts, the candy is a bit of a cult classic and one that won't likely disappear anytime soon.
But you have to wait until Hallowe’en season to find this old-fashioned candy in shops. Like fresh asparagus or strawberries, kisses are a seasonal treat fans anticipate each year.
With rather everyday ingredients (corn syrup, sugar, blackstrap molasses, coconut oil and salt) it does seem to be a “natural” treat when compared with the other commercial candies and chocolate bars available to drop into trick-or-treat bags.
Even the packaging is simple — each chewy caramel-coloured kiss twisted into a bit of waxed paper printed with cartoon witches and pumpkins.
But if you can't get your hands on a bag of Hallowe'en kisses, you can make the pulled molasses taffy at home, with just a few ingredients.
Here’s a recipe from Crosby’s Molasses, a family company in Saint John, New Brunswick, that began importing molasses to the east coast from the Caribbean in 1879, and remains a well-known Canadian brand.
Pulling taffy is fun to do with kids — this could be a new fall family tradition for your little goblins, and a way to create new fans for this nostalgic Canadian Hallowe'en treat!
MOLASSES PULL TAFFY
Here's the old-fashioned recipe for the taffy that's wrapped up for Hallowe'en kisses — from the Crosby Molasses Company. If you want to make a darker (and stronger) molasses flavoured candy, use their Blackstrap Molasses, or choose light Fancy Molasses for a milder candy.
½ cup Crosby’s Fancy or Blackstrap Molasses
1 ½ cups sugar
1 ½ Tbsp. vinegar
½ cup water
¼ tsp. cream of tartar
¼ cup butter
1/8 tsp. baking soda
In a heavy bottomed pot, combine molasses, sugar, vinegar and water. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring often, until mixture reaches 255 F (or when a small amount dropped in cold water turns hard).
Remove from heat and add butter, cream of tartar and baking soda. Pour onto a buttered, sided cookie sheet.
When cool enough to handle, fold and pull pieces of taffy until light in color. (Butter hands before pulling).
Twist into a long rope and cut into 1” pieces. Wrap in parchment paper.
OLD FASHIONED MOLASSES TAFFY
Another version of the molasses taffy recipe that I found online at AllRecipes.com If you want to try to replicate the Kerr's candy, use dark Blackstap Molasses and substitute coconut oil for butter (and use coconut oil on your hands while pulling the taffy.) Use a candy thermometer to make sure you achieve the proper temperature.
2 cups sugar
1 cup molasses (dark blackstrap or medium cooking molasses)
¼ cup water
2 teaspoons white vinegar
2 tablespoons butter or coconut oil
½ teaspoon baking soda
Lightly grease a baking sheet. Bring the sugar, molasses, water, and vinegar to a boil in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook and stir until the sugar has reached the hard ball stage, 250 to 265 degrees F (121 to 129 degrees C), or until a small amount of syrup dropped into cold water forms a rigid ball.
Remove from the heat, and stir in the butter or coconut oil and baking soda. Pour the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet, and allow to cool until cool enough to handle, 10 to 15 minutes.
Once cool enough to handle, fold the taffy in half, then pull to double its original length. Continue folding and pulling until the taffy has turned golden brown, and is too stiff to pull anymore. Cut the taffy into bite sized pieces, and wrap in waxed paper. Store in an airtight container.