Tuesday, April 23, 2013

La King's Taffy

We take a break from admiring the architecture of the homes in the East End and the businesses in the Strand Historic Districts of Galveston (TX) to take a look into the historic aspects of the interior of one of these businesses.

As soon as we saw the name La King’s Confectionery (located in the building on the right, above), we knew we had to make a hard right turn and enter this store. After all, how many “confectionery” stores have opened in the past few years?

One step inside. . . "Stepping through the doors you are carried back 100 years.

"The building is nearly 150 years old and much of the equipment and fixtures within have seen a Century come and go.

"La King's Confectionery is your connection to a by gone era. It goes back to the 1920's when Mr.James H King began learning the candymaking art as an apprentice at the St. Regis Confectionery in Houston, Texas. He learned his craft under the watchful eyes of 'old-country masters.' He established his own business and eventually supplied stores throughout the South.

"In 1976, Jimmy's oldest son Jack, moved his family to the historic Strand in Galveston to recreate an old fashion confectionery. With the help of his family, he created La King's Confectionery. He has continued to use the 19th century formulas and methods handed down to him, making confections using traditional equipment and procedures" (lakingsconfectionery.com).

And there he was: the high school junior in his white slacks; white, short-sleeved shirt; black tie; and white, oval-shaped (when opened) paper hat with just the right tilt (that the girls loved) ready to prepare that phosphate or sundae. . . . Or at least that’s what I saw in my mind.

"La King's features a 1920's soda fountain, serving malts, shakes, ice cream sodas, sundaes, splits, floats and your favorite fountain drinks. They proudly make and serve Purity ice cream, Texas' first ice cream manufacturer, founded in 1889 on Galveston Island.

La King's newest addition is a full-service coffee shop.

So while Chuck is photographing the soda fountain and candy cases, I wander toward the back of the store. There I find a small cluster of people watching some form of action. Ever curious, I stop to take a look. And what do I find? A young man in an initial step of making salt water taffy.

“Right off the top—salt water taffy is not made from salt water. You do need some salt and some water to make a batch of taffy, however. But the name ‘salt water taffy’ doesn't come from the ingredients either.

“No one knows where the name ‘salt water taffy’ came from. The most popular story of origin involves a shopkeeper on the Atlantic City Boardwalk named David Bradley. A tidal surge from a summer storm in 1883 swamped Bradley's store and buried his inventory in sea water. As he was cleaning up the following day a girl walked into his store and asked for a bag of taffy. Bradley was supposed to have sarcastically invited his young customer to help herself to his ‘salt water taffy.’ Bradley's mother thought his grumpy remark to be catchy and encouraged him to begin selling his candy as ‘salt water taffy’" (essortment.com). There is some debate about the veracity of this story, but as someone who lived many years in the East, we believe what we want to believe.

I arrived after Chef Marshall had cooked the sugar mixture in a large copper kettle and it had been poured onto this ancient steel-topped table. What is interesting about the table, other than its apparent antiquity, is the fact that water runs under the surface to help in the cooling process.

After much folding, pressing with a metal rod,
and flattening, the mixture was sufficiently cooled to be moved to the pulling machine.
As the candy was stretched and pulled, stretched and pulled, the mixture lightened in color and developed a definite sheen. Soon it was time for the color. More stretching and pulling to distribute the red coloring throughout.
Now it was time for the flavoring and soon the smell of strawberries permeated the room.

Then it was back to the table for more folding and pressing. As the taffy further cooled, Chef Marshall prepared the “stripes” that would decorate the candy. The white powder seen here is corn starch.

The taffy was formed into a forty-five pound log and decorated with the green and pink stripes. Now it was time for the candy to be placed on a machine that shaped it into a smooth cylinder.

Next Chef Marshall begins pulling the taffy from one end until he had a rope about an inch in diameter. This rope was fed into the 102-year-old machine which cut and wrapped each piece faster than the eye—and camera—could see.

And, voilĂ , soon we were all munching on freshly made candy.

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