The first Christmas after my parents’ death brought many unwelcome changes. After forty years of Christmas mornings by the same fireplace, in the same living room, with the Christmas tree in the same spot … where would we celebrate our Savior’s birth this year? And after forty years of Mom fixing the turkey and stuffing and gravy, and Dad making his infamous mashed potatoes … who would prepare the main dishes for the Christmas dinner now? And who would wear the funny Christmas sweater and snowman jewelry? And who would build the perfect fire?
And who would make the gingerbread house and bake the “secret ingredient” nutmeg Christmas cookies with the kids? And who would make the candy? Mom’s famous melt-in-your-mouth fudge? Or my favorite ... her Christmastime-only divinity?
Still shrouded in a suffocating fog of disbelief and grief, my sisters and I addressed these quandaries one at a time. We selected a new gathering place, and each of us bravely took on the elements of the meal we thought we could duplicate. (The more complicated dish, the gravy, we decided to do as a group project.) We hunted diligently for Mom’s recipes, and even divvied up her silly Christmas jewelry—no sweaters, though—and each agreed to wear a piece in memory of Mom.
The older grandchildren decided there would be no gingerbread house that year … it just wouldn’t be the same without Oma managing the construction. But the “secret ingredient” nutmeg Christmas cookies did continue, with the older kids teaching the younger ones how to decorate a perfect Christmas cookie.
And the candy? There seemed to be no satisfactory solution to that dilemma, but we all agreed we could not have Christmas without it. After sifting through a plethora of Mom’s recipes, all claiming ownership to "the world's best fudge," we each chose one and decided to have a contest to see who could come closest to Mom’s melt-in-your-mouth fudge. (I won.)
The divinity was left up to me because neither of my sisters are a fan of that particular candy. But I knew Christmas would not be Christmas for me without Mom’s divinity.
In earnest I began scouring through her cookbooks and recipe cards. Finally I came to page 62 in “Granddaughter’s Inglenook Cookbook.” Divinity Candy. With Mom’s handwritten note next to it.
I took the book, Mom’s candy thermometer, the divinity bowl (there was only one bowl I ever saw Mom make divinity in) and headed home to make candy.
Except…I remembered two important candy-making tips from Mom. Don’t make the candy too far in advance, it will dry out. And…divinity must be made on a clear day—something about humidity and the divinity not setting properly. Mom used to call every year to say, “It’s the perfect divinity making day.” She would then spend the entire day making multiple batches of the sickeningly sweet white confection.
Since Christmas was still two weeks away, I decided it was too early for candy making. Not only would it dry out, it would most likely disappear before Christmas morning. So, I waited.
One week before Christmas, and nice and dry outside, I started to think about attempting the divinity. But I did have a little more shopping to do, and I still had a whole week until Christmas … so, I waited. Six days before Christmas it was drizzling … so, I waited. Five days before Christmas the clouds were gone … but I was depressed and didn’t feel like making candy. Four days before Christmas I awoke to beautiful azure skies, but I still wasn’t in the candy-making mood. Three days before Christmas, and two days before Christmas, it rained.
Christmas Eve, despite ominous clouds, I finally made the divinity … but it didn’t set up right. Instead of fluffy peaks of white meringuey-marshmallowy heaven, I got flat, blobby pieces of wet sugar and egg whites. It didn’t taste too bad—sort of divinityish—but it wasn’t Mom’s Christmastime-only divinity.
Later, going through the freezer at my parents’ house, I came across a small opaque-white plastic container. Inside were six pieces of Mom’s divinity. Apparently she had saved some of her Christmastime-only divinity for another time. Although it was over a year old, I savored every bite. And, I have never again missed a year of making Christmastime-only divinity—on a clear day.
“Granddaughter’s Inglenook Cookbook,” was first published in 1942 by Brethren Publishing House in Elgin, Illinois.
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