Sunday, December 31, 2017

Vintage Candy on the Wood Cookstove: Divinity

December 23rd was devoted to Christmas cooking at our house.  Nancy and I made the second batch of Christmas Crack (aptly named for its entirely too addictive traits) and several vegetable/cracker dips.  Then, niece Josie came over again, and we made caramels and penuche, baked three dozen Danishes of various fruit flavors and a batch of mountain-top cookies, assembled an egg casserole, and made divinity.

I don't care for divinity.  Let me just say that right up front.  If it were the last candy on earth, I'm sure that my terrible sugar addiction would cause me to eat it by the handful, but since we are not in such dire straits, I could never taste it again and not feel deprived of anything.  However, it is one of the candies that my aunt Meme always made at Christmas.  She first taught me how to make it in December of 1985, and we made it together every year until she left her own home in 1992 at the age of 97.  I've made it alone many times since then, but it is a candy that I much prefer to have help with--I'll explain why in a minute.  

There was only one year that I didn't make divinity for Christmas; that was in 2009.  It always seemed to me that not very many people in our family liked it, so I decided to skip it that year.  My cousin Cory asked where it was at our family get together, and I explained that I had decided to forego it since I didn't think very many of us ate it.  He was so disappointed because he confessed that night that the divinity was his favorite of all the homemade candies.  I felt terrible since he was in the service at that time, and all of the comforts of home were doubly important to him that Christmas.

I assured him that I would make it again the next Christmas.  However, he was killed in a car accident in the fall of 2010 just after he had been discharged.  Now, I always feel like making the divinity is not just a Christmas tribute to Meme but also to Cory as well.

Divinity is a very old-fashioned, fat-free candy that apparently many other people besides my family associate with Christmas.  I saw it for sale in our local Super Saver this season, and one always sees it in the Christmas issues of the Vermont Country Store Catalog.  Meme used to tell me that she and her sister Pearl were in charge of making the candy in her home when she was young, and I often imagine what it would have looked like when the two of them would be cooking fudge, divinity, and penuche on the old Monarch range in the enormous farmhouse which used to stand where my first cousin and his family now live.

To make divinity, the first three things that you have to do are to put the teakettle on the fire, spread about 2 1/2 feet of waxed paper on a table or counter, and prepare whatever decoration you would like to put on top of each piece of candy.  I usually see some kind of nut like a pecan or a walnut on divinity when I see it for sale in a store.  Meme always poked a maraschino cherry half on the top of each piece of divinity, so that is what I do.  Before even beginning to make the candy, I cut however many maraschino cherry halves as I feel like I will need. This year, my niece Josie completed that task.
Josie cutting maraschino cherries in half.
Lay the maraschino cherry halves on a paper-towel covered plate while you complete the rest of the steps for the divinity.  You want them to be as dry as possible when you eventually use them.

Into a heavy-bottomed, two- or three-quart saucepan, place 2 1/2 cups white sugar, 1/2 c. hot water, 2/3 c. light corn syrup, and 1/4 tsp. salt (I always omit the salt).  Stir to get everything combined; then, place this directly over the firebox so that it comes to a boil quickly.  

The sugar, corn syrup, and hot water mixture
coming to a boil directly over the firebox.
The same mixture at a full boil.
When this comes to a full boil, you can move it away from the fire if you want, but it must continue to boil until it reaches the hard ball stage.  I always test this by using the cold water method where you drop a little of the sugar syrup into a coffee cup of cold water and then touch it with your finger to see how hard it is.  Test this frequently and start doing it early because this part of the process does not take very long at all, and you don't want to leave the syrup on the fire a moment longer than necessary. I'm convinced that this is where I erred in the two batches that have failed me in the last 32 years.

While the syrup is cooking, beat two egg whites until soft peaks form.

Beating the egg whites was Josie's responsibility, too.
Once the sugar syrup has cooked, pour the boiling syrup over the beaten egg whites very slowly, beating the mixture the whole time.  This is the first place where it is very helpful to have two people.  One can pour, and one can beat.

Now comes the hard part.  You must beat this egg white and hot syrup mixture until it begins to thicken.  I've seen this take about a half hour, but usually takes quite a bit less than that.  Either way, your arm will get tired. When it begins to thicken, add a half tsp. of vanilla flavoring.

Beating the divinity candy.
Now comes the tricky part.  When this begins to get thick and the glossy look has left it, you know you are now done with beating the candy. However, don't think you can sit back and rest and enjoy looking at it.  This is the point where you have to work like lightening.

VERY QUICKLY, drop the candy by heaping teaspoons full onto the waxed paper you had spread out earlier.  (Even with two of us doing this, the last pieces of divinity to be dropped looked considerably different than the first ones.)  As soon as you are done dropping the candy, poke whatever you are going to dress up the candies with into the tops.

Let the candies dry for a while before handling them, then put them in whatever container you will store them in.  These will become extremely soft and sticky if you leave them in an airtight container, so we always leave the lid of their tins slightly ajar in order to prevent that.

Two tins of divinity candy.
Here is the recipe in the original form I had copied it:

2 1/2 c. sugar
2/3 c. light corn syrup
1/2 c. hot water
1/4 tsp. salt
2 egg whites

Pour hot water over sugar, corn syrup, and salt.
Stir until sugar is dissolved.
Cook until hard.  
Pour over stiffly beaten egg whites.
Beat until thick.  Drop on waxed paper.

I hope you've all had a joyous time celebrating Jesus' birth.  Things have been very busy and extremely cold here (right now the outdoor thermometer says -24 degrees, but I think it is not quite that cold out), and I'm looking forward to things calming down a bit and being able to enjoy some home time.

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