HOME ARCHIVE [previous][next]
The Taffy Maker Teaches a Class by Megan Savage

11/02/2006

The secret of taffy is not the pull but the hard ball. I understand this secret, which is in essence alchemy, the way substances change form. Hours at the stove, I move my spoon in a circular motion. The onion that causes sadness caramelizes under my instrument’s back. Rhubarb becomes coulis. Sugar thickens water. You think it is instinct. Once I knew a girl who carved apples into heads without study, just like that, a flick of the paring knife and cheekbones, another, an aristocratic nose. She shrank the apples in the oven and wore them like trophies. She had an instinct for the knife. If you want instinct, go to flower arranging. The secret of the hard ball is knowing the sugar, corn syrup, water, and cream of tartar in your pan. Feeling the heft of the pan. Let me introduce a metaphor. As a boy I lived near a lake that glassed in the winter. Each year we waited to skate until the day an old townsman would encourage his creaky blue Ford out onto the ice, proving it safe. What risk, I used to think, to trust the ice to bear the weight of man, vehicle. Later I learned the man possessed a complex understanding of the temperature of the air, the coloring of the water, the patterns of the crystals. Is your sugar dissolving? You must know the ingredients like that old man knew ice. A cup of cold water. A teaspoon from your pan. Drop a bit off the end of the teaspoon into the cold water. Do this again. Again. Again. The candy will dissolve in the cold, firm up, then ball. Wait too long it will crack into a lollipop. Trust only your vigilance. Lose your vigilance and you fail. One November, when the sparrows and bluebirds were still nesting in the tree cavities, the old man drove his car out too early. Out on the pond, the car creaked across the too-thin ice. The ice shattered, levered up around the wheels; I watched the car sink beneath the currents, below where our feet became fins in the summer. When he died there was snow on the ice. Then, I was angry because I believed this snow clouded his instincts. Now I understand he was old, senile, as we all will be. Despite what I say I will fail similarly one day. This ball you see will crack every time, until all I have is bad candy, opaque lollipops, and I will make an igloo out of it all and seal myself off from the world. Be vigilant. Now, do you have your hard ball? Good. Take the pot off the stove. We will pull until it becomes perfect taffy. Think, “snow white.” Think, “porous.”

----------
Megan Savage is pursuing her MFA in Creative Writing at Indiana University where she is the Fiction Editor of Indiana Review. She hails from New England, and it is taking her some time to learn the names of Midwestern flora and fauna.

[previous] [next]