My Grandma Young was so good to her grandkids, ornery critters all (well, ‘cept for me *cough*). One way that she loved us well: she made lavish amounts of cookies and candies at Christmas time, and we had nearly free access to it when we visited, as long as we didn’t stuff ourselves right before meals.
Grandma had her own language that she would use when the occasion arose: if we “pieced” (snacked) right before meals, she would get “cross” (grumpy).
At one time or another, amazingly (her little farm house was always a noisy, busy place, with lots of grandkids and aunties and uncles, farmyard dogs, cats, and chickens bustling about) Grandma picked up on the fact that I loved her homemade divinity. She started doing something that made me feel very special indeed. Every time she made a batch, she would tuck away a few pieces–just for me–in a little bag, in a specific corner of the ‘fridge. When we visited–if there was divinity hidden away–she’d say a quiet word to me, and when nobody was about, I’d dig into that drawer and find it.
Sweet treasure to a quiet little kid: not only did my Grandma notice me, she saved a few pieces of my favorite candy, too.
If the tiny farmhouse near Beatrice, Nebraska, where my grandparents lived, was still there, I could walk directly into the kitchen, pull open the ‘fridge door, and show you exactly where that divinity was always hidden.
Except that I wouldn’t. Sorry. 😉 Much as I love ya, dear gentle reader, I love that divinity maybe . . . just . . a smidge more.
(Now, my cousins, if any of you had the very same experience with Grandma, I don’t wanna hear it!) 😉
Grandma was young–in her early sixties–when she fell on the ice one winter and had to go to the hospital to get patched up. At least, she seemed young to me now, as I inch toward (inexorably and anon!) that age, myself. She had to spend a couple days in the hospital, and the day came that she was ready to come home. It was just after Christmastime. Mom, Dad, my siblings and Grandpa all took off in the car to fetch her. I stayed behind at the farmhouse. I’m not even sure why, but I suspect that there just wasn’t room for me in the car.
Plus, I was old enough (only just!) to stay alone in my Grandma’s house for an hour or two.
I was so excited and happy for the day to proceed as planned. I couldn’t wait to see my Grandma again. She was okay; she was coming home; everything would be back to normal again. Like many homes at the time, my grandparents’ little place wasn’t quite right without the woman of the house there.
She was the heart, not only of their home, but of our entire extended family.
What happened next is too sad to recount here in detail, but she died suddenly, and instead of a celebration, the next few weeks and months were incredibly sad and empty.
Arriving at the hospital, my folks and Grandpa were expecting to pick up Grandma and bring her home. Instead they were told gently that she had “suddenly taken a bad turn.” Of course discovering that she had died unexpectedly must have driven all other thoughts from their minds. In shock, they forgot all about me, I guess, and I puttered around the farmhouse by myself for hours, wondering what the delay was.
Finally a kind neighbor, Mr. Barnard, showed up late that evening, knocking at the back door.
The solemn, kind-faced farmer told me as gently as he could that my grandma was not coming home from the hospital after all, that she was dead! I can still see him standing there in his overalls, his cap in his hands, his face drawn and sad. My dad had called him, I guess, to ask him to fetch me and take me to his farm, so I wouldn’t be alone.
Dad hadn’t reckoned on my stubbornly refusing to go, however. I was not about to go with a stranger to a house that I didn’t know, especially cast into the throes of shock and grief as I was.
And so--as shy and quiet as I was–I held my ground and refused to budge from my Grandma’s house. My throat was aching from wanting to cry, as I stood and stared at my Grandpa’s old friend. I wouldn’t move. I needed privacy to grieve. To come to grips with this fact: that I’d never see my Grandma again, at least not on this earth.
The quiet man finally allowed me to refuse–really, what else could he do?–and he turned and lumbered back down the walk to his pick-up truck. I grieved by myself for several hours, until the sun set and I went about the house, turning on as many lights as possible. At some point during that wretched day, I went to the ‘fridge and opened the drawer.
There it was, a small bag with four pieces of divinity that Grandma had tucked away for me.
My Grandma not only made divinity, but during every Christmas season, she would made enough pfefferneuse to fill a fifty-pound flour sack, peanut brittle, fudge (the old-fashioned kind), caramels, date roll, endless loaves of sourdough bread, snickerdoodles, other cookies, and all without the benefit of a big mixer. Her strong arms and shoulders were her mixer.
Grandma’s influence in my life was huge, and was probably the primary reason I started making candies around Christmas time myself, when I was about little Mack’s age. I taught myself how to make caramels, chocolate-covered cherries, the old-fashioned fudge and many others, but divinity (for obvious reasons) will always be my favorite. It took me awhile to figure out a recipe that tasted like Grandma’s, but this one is as close as I could get.
A word to the wise: homemade candies can be fussy to make, but if you follow the recipe closely, you can be successful at them. Also, an accurate candy thermometer and a heap of patience are both musts. 🙂 And either some very strong arms, or a good heavy stand mixer!
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 1 cup light corn syrup (freshly opened jar is best)
- ½ cup water
- ⅛ tsp. salt
- 2 egg whites
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- 1 tsp. powdered sugar
- ½ cup toasted, chopped walnuts or pecans
- Mix together in saucepan: sugar, corn syrup, water and salt.
- Heat slowly, stirring, to soft ball stage (242 degrees).
- Meanwhile, beat egg whites until very stiff.
- Gradually pour ⅓ of the syrup in a thin stream over beaten egg whites, beating constantly.
- Continue to cook remaining syrup to hard ball stage (265 degrees).
- Beat this syrup gradually into egg white mixture, and beat until the mixture will hold its shape on a spoon.
- Beat in vanilla and powdered sugar (even this tiny amount of powdered sugar makes a real improvement in the texture of the candy).
- Stir in chopped nuts quickly, and use two spoons to drop onto a sheet of waxed paper. Do it quickly! The candy will get firmer and firmer.
- Store in a covered tin.
Try your hand at candy-making! Maybe you’ll become hooked, too. I believe it has become a bit of a lost art, in our day of being able to buy anything we want, with a few clicks of a computer keyboard, but trust me–homemade divinity eclipses the store-bought kind in every possible way.
Thanks for popping in, gentle reader. Enjoy those you love the best. They may not always be with you. And make some candy for them today, if you take a notion to it.
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