I mentioned yesterday that parkin is a traditional Bonfire Night food. Another treat is Bonfire Toffee, also called Treacle Toffee. The origin of the word ‘toffee’ is uncertain – the OED has its earliest entry as 1825, as a variant of ‘toughy’, in Robert Forby’s The Vocabulary of East Anglia,
“Toughy – a coarse sweetmeat, composed of brown sugar and treacle; named from its toughness, though perhaps it should be spelled tuffy, and considered as another form of taffy, described in W C as compounded of the same ingredients, and derived from Fr taffiat, a sweetmeat made of sugar and brandy.”
The ‘W C’ mentioned here is An Attempt at a Glossary of some Words used in Cheshire by Roger Wilbraham, 1817, which has,
“Taffy, what is called coverlid ; this is treacle thickened by boiling, and made into hard cakes. Tafia, or taffiat, sugar and brandy made into cakes, French.”
|R Wilbraham - Taffy - 1817|
Tafia is also a cheap form of rum, made from boiled sugar cane, which is stirred until crystals form. These crystals are removed, leaving molasses behind. This is boiled again, water and yeast are added and it is allowed to ferment. The result is distilled to make rum spirit – a colourless liquid which is matured in oak barrels and coloured with caramel. The un-aged spirit can be drunk as tafia. So, from molasses, with its roots in the Latin mel – ‘honey’, we get to tafia, a possible root of ‘toffee’; treacle toffee made from treacle (aka molasses).
In his second edition of A Dialect of Craven (1830), under the entry for ‘toffy,toughey’, Rev William Carr writes,
“To join for toffy," to club for making toffy, a custom still very frequent amongst young persons. Similar societies are formed for making parkins or cakes made of oatmeal and treacle.”
|W Carr - Toffy - 1830|
So it all comes around, through molasses, and honey, back to parkin, treacle and toffee.
A recipe for Treacle Toffee.
1lb Brown Sugar¼ pint of Water4ozs Black Treacle4ozs Golden Syrup1 tsp White Wine Vinegar3ozs Unsalted Butter¼ teaspoon Cream of Tartar
First of all, grease an 8-inch tin with unsalted butter. Put all the ingredients in a pan and bring to a quick boil. Stir it constantly. When the mixture begins to thicken (after a few minutes), get a jug of cold water and test a drop of the mixture – when it instantly solidifies into toffee it is ready, so remove from the heat at once and stand the pan in cold water, to arrest the heat. Pour into the prepared tin and allow to cool. Break into pieces and keep in an airtight tin.
Another name for this is Tom Trot.
Benjamin Disraeli, Prime Minister and author, mentions Tom Trot in his novel Coningsby (1844),
“Have you got any toffy?' inquired a dull looking little boy in a hoarse voice of one of the vendors of scholastic confectionary.' Tom Trott, Sir.''No; I want toffy.''Very nice Tom Trott, Sir.''No, I want toffy; I have been eating Tom Trot all day.'”
The first page of the first issue of the magazine Punch, July 17th 1841, has the following,
“The boys will be the greatest sufferers. One of them had stripped his jacket of all its buttons as a deposit on some tom-trot, which the house had promised to supply on the following day; and we regret to say, there are whispers of other transactions of a similar character.”
Tom Trot was also a folk character, a good example to children, who studied hard and learned his lessons, and went on to a successful life.
|The Wisdom of Crop the Conjurer c. 1814|
|From the same - Tom Trot's song|