Never a Christmas comes and goes that I don't think about my Mama making Divinity candy. There are two versions of this family legend.
Her version: "I think I won your Daddy's heart by making candy. I tried every recipe I knew, and he thought I was a really good cook."
Daddy's version: "When we were dating, your Mama made the most wonderful candy for me. After we got married, I soon realized that was all she could make. Nothing for dinner."
My version: Mama always made Divinity at Christmas. The weather had to be right. No humidity. I've seen her throw a whole batch away and wait a day to start again. She had certain rules in this Divinity making.
1. It needed to be cold
2. No mixer was allowed
3. I got to "lick the bowl"—meaning I got to scrape the bowl for any remaining candy when she was through.
When I looked through her little recipe book in the candy section, which just happens to be the largest section, I also found fudge, praline drops, peanut brittle, date loaf, caramel fudge, and chocolate dip candy. It's a wonder she didn't send Daddy into a sugar coma before they ever got married.
She sometimes made the Divinity with chopped pecans only. Other times she added chopped pecans and topped it with a perfect pecan half. She was very adamant about the no mixer rule. My Great Aunt Ruth, who lived with us, was the dietician at Northwest in the 1950s and '60s. She usually had Mama make a beautiful tray of Divinity which was delivered to the McLendons. R.D. McLendon was the president of the college.
We had a set of cooking spoons that Daddy had brought home from Germany in WWII. They were oversized spoons. She would use one to beat the candy until it was the right consistency. When she was through, there was usually a blister in the palm of her hand.
If she didn't think the temperature was right in the house, she would go outside and sit on the steps to continue beating. And she also did this because all this whipping, whisking, and beating made her hot.
Peanut brittle was also a production. She would pour the hot candy, mixed with paraffin, right out on the kitchen counter. I wanted to help so bad. If you grow up in a house with three women (Mama, my Grandmother, and Aunt Ruth) you don't learn to cook until you leave home.
Mamay, my grandmother, had a candy specialty too. She made taffy the old-fashioned way—pulling it over and over until it turned from a soft ball into a long strip. When it cooled she would break it with the blunt end of a knife and put it on wax paper. She would give me a little piece to try to pull. It didn't get long and pearly white like hers did. She would pull it until it snapped when she brought the two ends together. Mine would go from a small, gooey ball, into a long brown gooey strip. Needless to say, we didn't eat the one I pulled.
Marjorie Latham Dandridge in the kitchen in the 1950s when we lived in the house on Hwy. 51 where Ever Blooms is now. She must have posed for this picture, because that was NOT her usual kitchen attire.
I've said all this to say what is really important. I brought my mother home from the hospital in 1993—18 years ago on Dec. 23—with a terminal lung cancer diagnosis. She also suffered from Parkinson's disease, macular degeneration, heart disease, and chronic depression. Hospice came to set up equipment right before Christmas.
For those of you have lost loved ones this year or for those who have lost friends and family at Christmastime, I offer you hope. You never forget. But time does make a difference.
This Christmas I don't see Mama in those final years with oxygen, wearing a wig from taking chemotherapy, and looking pale. I see her sitting on the back porch at our house on Lafayette Street, in her "pedal pushers" and house shoes, her breath making a fog in the cold, beating Divinity candy.