Summer Traditions: Salt Water Taffy

As a kid, whenever we spent a day at the beach, I couldn’t resist a sack of salt water taffy. Sweet, sticky summer stuff! But I always wondered about the “salt water” part of its name, as there isn’t so much of a hint of salt lurking below its many flavors. Today I’ll try to summarize what a bit of web surfing has turned up.

The first known recipe for taffy was found in a 10th century cookbook from Baghdad, but it wasn’t until sugar became widely available that the treat spread to Europe, during the 18th century.  Traditional taffy was made from sugar, molasses or corn syrup, and butter or cream, and was flavored with vanilla, cocoa, mint, or lemon oil. By the 1840’s, taffy was being produced and sold in the United States,  quickly growing popular along the east coast. During this period, Atlantic City, New Jersey, was emerging as one of America’s premier seaside health resorts, and when the famousboardwalk was built, vendors set up shops selling knickknacks, ice cream, and candy.  One night, several shops were flooded by a unusually high tide, and after cleaning up, a merchant sampled a piece of taffy to see if it was still fit to sell. It was, and he began to call his stock “salt water taffy” as a marketing strategy. It worked, and it wasn’t long before candy manufacturers got wind of its popularity along the seaside.  Joseph Fralinger is generally given credit as the first to produce a line of salt water taffy, and he expanded his original line to include the iconic pastel colors that we associate with it today. Opening shops in Cape May and Ocean City, Fralinger became the “taffy king”.

Now this chewy stuff comes in every flavor imaginable, but I’m still partial to vanilla…..

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