When I was a little girl, I remember my paternal grandmother giving as Christmas gifts boxes of a curious homemade candy. The packages looked so inviting: mounds of fluffy white candy dotted with nuts carefully wrapped in tissue paper. She also did a variation that was pink. And then there was the name: divinity. How could it fail to be anything less than divine? But it wasn’t. It was kinda gross, like cloyingly sweet Styrofoam – with nuts.
I wanted to like it. I really did. I loved my grandma and all her down-home creations, from homemade ice cream to creamy tomato soup with rice. But the divinity, despite its holiday-time allure, was just ... icky.
Years later, as I became interested in making my own homemade Christmas creations, I remembered divinity and thought I might give it another try. “Maybe I was too fixated on fudge to give divinity a fair shake,” I thought. My grandmother was the child of German immigrants so I thought the recipe might harken back to her Teutonic roots. Instead, my Internet research explained why I hadn’t taken a shine to the so-called divine. The airy candy consists mostly of corn syrup and sugar and essentially was a marketing tool of major corn syrup maker Karo. Corn syrup came on the market in the early 1900s and was widely embraced as a cheap, domestically produced alternative to sugar.
Today we pooh pooh corn syrup, especially the high fructose version, as unhealthful and déclassé, but in my grandmother’s era it was considered healthier than sugar – it came from corn, after all. Karo reportedly included a recipe for divinity on its bottles. With this kind of lowbrow past, I don’t expect divinity to make a grand comeback anytime soon. One person, however, is happy to give it a plug: The Food Network’s beleaguered Southern chef Paul Deen. On her website she writes, “Mama made it every Christmas. Back when I was knee high to a grasshopper, we would have holiday parties and bake sales at school. I would be the first one to raise my hand and say, ‘My mama wants to make Divinity.’”
Maybe mama was on the Karo payroll ...