News of the World

THE BOOK: In spite of the violence, this is a very quiet book, with an emphasis on setting.
“Once at evening they came downhill to a stream crossing where the clear water made its way between great curving bluffs. Level strata of limestone in stripe after stripe carved back into a deep hollow with the big trees hanging down from overhead. It was like being in a tunnel. Maidenhair fern in bright lime-colored bouquets grew out of the limestone where water seeped through and it smelled of water and wet stone and the green fern.”

There was something endearing to me about the decency of the main character, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, an elderly gentleman who earned his living by reading aloud the news of the world to assemblies of people in the remote Texas towns through which he travelled in the 1870’s. His audience would have had no other means of learning about the world. The Captain would start the reading with the juiciest stories and as the evening progressed, he would put the listeners in a mind to convene, by reading dry news articles that induced yawning.

When the Captain agreed to escort Johanna Leonberger, a ten year old German girl who had been captured by the Kiowa Indians, back to her family outside San Antonio, a trip of some 400 miles, the tale began. It was a deeply moving story that has stayed with me.

THE BEAUTY: In their travels, a painted bunting was sighted. Although they are fairly common at birdfeeders, they breed in the coastal southeast and south central U.S. and winter in Central America. How I’d love to see one at my feeder. I’ll have to move south!

THE FOOD: Mrs. Gannett, (on whom The Captain was sweet) brought “Divinity” to the hotel for Johanna when she “babysat” for her so that Johanna wouldn’t run away while The Captain took care of business. The Captain was genuinely touched by the gesture because he knew that it wasn’t a simple recipe to make. Turns out, he was right.

Easy Homemade Divinity Candy

2 egg whites at room temperature
2¼ C granulated sugar
½ C water
½ C light corn syrup
⅛ tsp salt
½ C chopped pecans
1 tsp vanilla extract

Line a large cookie sheet with parchment or wax paper and set aside.

In a large saucepan, heat together the sugar, water, corn syrup and salt. Cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 7-10 minutes or until the temperature reaches 260º F on a candy thermometer. Just before the candy reaches temperature, beat the egg whites on high speed using an electric mixer or stand mixer until stiff peaks form.

Remove the boiling candy from the heat and, with the mixer on high speed, stream in the hot candy VERY slowly. It should take you at least 2 or so minutes to fully pour the hot candy mixture into the egg whites. Continue beating the mixture until it’s no longer glossy and it holds its shape, about 6-10 minutes (it depends on your mixer). Stir in the chopped pecans and vanilla extract until combined.

Butter two spoons (or grease them lightly with cooking spray) and, working quickly, drop rounded tablespoonfuls of the divinity mixture onto the lined baking sheets. You may need to scrape the candy mixture off of one spoon with the other spoon, then quickly flick your wrist to create a soft curl (like soft serve) on top of the candy.

Allow the candy to set at room temperature – maybe overnight, depending on the humidity in your home – until dry to the touch and no longer sticky. Once set and dry, you can keep it at room temperature for up to 5 days in an airtight container.

I procrastinated making this recipe for, let’s just say, a long time, because I was worried about the hot syrup permanently disfiguring me. When I finally resolved to forge ahead, I watched several videos of rather cavalier women and their daughters happily smiling and laughing while pouring redhot liquid into a mixing bowl- all of which was at once comforting and terrifying. I figured the first step in any successful undertaking is planning. As you can see below, I had everything laid out, ready for my big adventure.

The egg whites, at room temperature, are in the mixer bowl, and the silicone pad is to rest the hot pot on, should I need to put it down.

I followed the directions that I had repeatedly read, and set about making the syrup on the stove. That went well, with the candy thermometer actually reading 260º! Buoyed by my success, I started the mixer and whipped those eggs until stiff peaks formed. Before I poured the hot syrup into the egg whites, I switched to the paddle, and managed to empty the entire contents of the pot into the mixer bowl without a drop falling on my hazmat suit. I beat and beat and beat until I was convinced that the mixture was no longer shiny and could hold its shape. Working quickly, I sprayed two teaspoons with cooking spray and dropped rounded spoonfulls of the candy onto the lined pan. Then this happened.

As you can see, these are not mounds. They are little flat rounds of taffy-textured failures.

I left the pan to cool and dry, and cleaned up the kitchen mess, hoping the candy would metamorphose into the fluffy mounds they were destined to be. Finally realizing that my candy was not divinity, but taffy, I rolled each round into a cylinder and put them in a sealed container. Then this happened.

Instead of distinct little taffy rolls, the divinity had flattened and dried itself into a sheet.

Though it is not what it is supposed to be, it tastes wonderful! Sweet with crunchy pecans. We did not throw it away. We are eating every last bit.

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