Friday, December 4, 2009

Great-Grandma Dagle's Old-Fashioned Divinity



Every year at Christmas, my grandmother would serve a strange, white confection called Divinity.

What is Divinity? It's kind of a cross between fudge and a meringue cookie. I did a little research, hoping to find that it was an old, French-Canadian treat (my Dagles were French-Canadian) handed down for many generations. I was disappointed to find that it's actually thought to be a American in origin:

Although recipes for various nougat and sweet meringue-type confections (with and without nuts and fruit) can be traced to ancient Turkish and 17th century European and roots, food historians generally agree that Divinity (aka Divinity fudge, Divinity candy) is an early 20th century American invention. Why? One of the primary ingedients in early Divinity recipes is corn syrup, a product actively marketed to (& embraced by) American consumers as a sugar substitute at that time. Corn syrup was affordable (economical), practical (shelf-stable), and adapted well to most traditional recipes. Karo brand corn syrup, introduced by the Corn Products Refining Company in 1902, was/is perhaps the most famous. It is no coincidence that early Karo cooking brochures contain recipes for Divinity (from The Food Timeline).
I never much cared for Divinity as a kid. My grandmother - who got the recipe from he rmother-in-law "Zee" Dagle - made it in a loaf pan and served it in slices. I didn't like it this way; it included nuts and candied cherries, and reminded me too much of fruitcake. Years later, I tasted Divinity that was made in small "dollops" like cookies, which I think tastes much better.

Over the years, I've made a variety of holiday sweets and treats, but I've never attempted to make my great-grandmother's Divinity. So tonight - after a trip to Wal-Mart to buy a candy thermometer - I gave it a try.

Divinity is NOT the easiest thing to make. There are many factors to consider besides ingredients: weather conditions have to be absolutely right, the planets perfectly aligned, your chi unblocked, etc., etc. You might want to check your horoscope first, too.

Seriously though, humidity and barometric pressure play a big factor.

Why does Divinity sometimes choose not to set? "Divinity is a tricky confection to make under the best circumstances--almost impossible under less than good. The recipe in one community cookbook advises a short consultation with the local meteorologist: "Please remember candy doesn't set unless the barometer reads 30 in. or over; doesn't make a difference whether it's raining or not, just watch your t.v. for the barometric pressure." Divinity like most other Southern canides shows up around the winter holidays. It is sort of a companion piece to fudge in Christmas gift boxes. ---Biscuits, Spoonbread, and Sweet Potato Pie, Bill Neal [Alfred A. Knopf: New York] 1996, p. 138 (from The Food Timeline).
My advice: mix, mix, mix some more. And just when you think you can't hold the mixer any longer... keep on mixing. But, be careful not to mix too much.

I never said it was easy.

So how did my first attempt at Divinity turn out? Unfortunately, not as well as I'd hoped. The first few spoonfuls weren't firm enough and spread all over the wax paper like gooey cookies. After beating for a few more minutes, the mixture firmed up quite a bit, and finally began to stiffen.



Also, with humidity at 89%, and barometric pressure at just 30.14, our weather conditions were not ideal for Divinity-making. Sadly, my Divinity refused to set properly, and is just a bit too soft on the outside for my liking.

Strangely enough though, it tastes exactly like I remember my grandmother's Divinity tasting. One bite, and I was transported back to about 30 years ago.

It was a divine taste of Christmas past.

***

2 2/3 cups sugar
2/3 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup water
2 egg whites, stiffly beaten
1 tsp. vanilla
2/3 cup chopped nuts
red and green sugar (optional)
Also optional: candied fruit pieces, chocolate chips, crushed peppermint pieces

Mix sugar, corn syrup and waterh in a heavy saucepan. Stir over low heat until sugar is completely dissolved; then cook without stirring to 260⁰ (a little dropped into cold water forms a hard ball).

Remove from heat and pour, beating constantly, in a fine stream into the beaten egg whites. Add vanilla and continue beating until mixture holds its shopa and becomes slightly dull. Fold in nuts and other optional items (if desired).

Working quickly, drop from a greased spoon onto waxed paper in individual peaks. If it flattens out (like gooey cookies), beat the mixture for another minute or so. Do not overbeat or mixture will be too stiff. Top with red and green sugar (optional). Makes about 48 pieces.

Alternatively, fold in candied cherries or other goodies and pour into a loaf pan. When firm, serve in slices. OR, spread in a greased pan and cut into 1" squares when firm.

Store tightly covered to keep the humidity out.

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

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7 comments:

CMPointer said...

Divinity is a hard candy to make. Of course, I think almost all candy is a bit tricky. You can follow the recipe perfectly, but without that "nod" from the candy gods, you are *so* on your own. I'll have to try this recipe after I recover from my day of making candies, etc.

Caroline

Gini said...

Divinity looks devine, I don't know that I have ever tasted divinity! I am going to have to try this one, it looks so good but I will make sure the sun isn't rising in the house of moon or something like that!

Patsy said...

I used to make it with my grandmother and mother at Christmas. Excellent luck, although the weather does play a part. I was in humidity-filled Birmingham. It is so yummy.

Greta Koehl said...

I'm from Texas, so I'm required by law to love Divinity. I prefer it with pecans mixed in. We could make it pretty easily in Texoma - low humidity, etc. - but I won't even attempt it in my swampy part of Virginia. I'm reduced to buying the commercial stuff at Cracker Barrels, which is nowhere near as good as fresh Divinity. My Mom could toss it off effortlessly, batch after batch.

Amy Coffin said...

My grandfather (the family candy maker) talked about divinity, but I never knew what it was. Thanks for the pictures. It looks too complicated for my poor cooking skills.

Cheryl Fleming Palmer said...

Thank you for the reminder of one of my mother's favorite's! She never made candy, but I do remember her carrying on when she was given the opportunity to eat a piece.

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