(by Jennifer Conway)
Snow was rare in the little mining town where I grew up. Although just outside of Yosemite, we were above the dense fog of the San Joaquin Valley and just below the snowline of the High Sierras. The lack of crunchy ice to make a snowman was quite a drag. But the mixture of pine and oak in the wind, rolling hills without a fence in sight, grazing horses, and at night a cacophony of crickets and frogs, a dark blue sky with an occasional passing meteorite helped to ease the boredom.
Not nearly as much as I would have liked. I was meant for the city; my parents were not. It was nearly Christmas 1983. My family was in the process of building our new house on the ancestral land given to us by my grandparents. I was the youngest of five, living in the garage of our future home with my parents and an old wood stove. The air was filled with the smell of burning oak and often my mom's cigarettes. It was tight, but we were making it work. The bathroom had been completed in the house before we moved in, so that was good. The kitchen had not yet been started.
(I'm the one with the attitude; my mom is in the red.)
Behind the garage and the backyard that would soon show sublime mountain views was the camper that served as my bedroom as well as the kitchen. It had a tiny fold-out table with faded yellow vinyl seats and a peeling Formica tabletop that doubled as counter space. It smelled like decades of dust and the baby powder I liked to sprinkle on my pillows at night.
My mom and I decided to make divinity for a holiday treat at my grandparents' annual family dinner. It’s an old-fashioned candy made by beating boiling sugar and corn syrup into whipped egg whites. Most of our things were still packed in boxes, so we were going to depend on the power of our arms only. This endeavor was not having the desired result. As a last-ditch effort, we decided to use the blender. Being 11, I got a little ahead of myself as candy-making fever took hold. I switched on the blender without its lid. The sugary goo came whirling out in a frenzied blizzard. The camper had corn syrup splatter on every wall, the floor, and the ceiling. My mom and I were coated with globs of sticky white chunks and pecan pieces. It smelled yummy, though.
After a “Dammit, Jenny” from my mom, we both cracked up. I tried to pull the gunk out of my mom's bouffant (a short silvery remnant of the ‘60s), and she worked the globs out of my totally awesome permed, Depp-ed, and moussed Madonna-esque shoulder-length bleached blonde hair. Grandma ended up making the divinity that year.
(adapted from Karo)
2 1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. light corn syrup
1/2 c. water
1/4 t. salt
2 egg whites, at room temperature
1 t. vanilla extract
1 c. chopped nuts
In a 2-quart saucepan, combine sugar, corn syrup, water, and salt.
Stirring constantly, bring to boil over medium heat.
Reduce heat to low, and cook without stirring until temperature on candy thermometer reaches 260 F. or a small amount of the mixture dropped into very cold water forms a hard ball that doesn’t flatten until pressed, about 40 minutes.
Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form.
With mixer at high speed, gradually add hot syrup in a thin, steady stream.
DO NOT SCRAPE SIDE OF SAUCEPAN.
Continue beating at high speed until mixture begins to lose its gloss, about 3 minutes.
Reduce speed to low and beat in vanilla.
Continue beating at low speed until mixture holds a peak and does not spread when dropped from a spoon, about 8 minutes.
(If mixture becomes too stiff for mixer, beat with wooden spoon.)
Immediately stir in nuts.
Working quickly, drop mixture by teaspoonfuls onto waxed paper. Let stand until set.
Store in tightly-covered container.