Sweet Holidays: From Divinity to Flaming Snowballs

by On January 2, 2014 in General, Holidays, Recipes

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Making divinity Credit: Lance Cpl. Jonathan G. Wright via Wikimedia Commons

Making divinity
Credit: Lance Cpl. Jonathan G. Wright via Wikimedia Commons

As a child, I used to love hanging out in my grandmother’s large, gleaming white kitchen. Helping her bake and cook was always fun, but I was also on a mission to get into the walk-in pantry.

It housed the canned and dried goods you’d expect, but also a special round, red tin. It once held commercial cookies, but was now used for Grandma’s superior efforts: dainty sugar cookies, rich date nut bars, dark chocolate fudge. The item I longed for most only appeared at the holidays: grandma’s divinity.

These imperfectly shaped white mounds of velvety, sugary goodness were like no other candy I’d ever had. I used to call them “sweet clouds.”

Grandma taught us that successful divinity was all about the weather. Humid or damp days meant don’t even try. When her foggy town had a rare dry winter day, she went to work. Egg whites in the mixer, a sugar syrup boiling to “hard ball stage” on the stove. Then a splash of vanilla, a slow pour of syrup in the bowl, and beaters working until the white mass reached a perfect consistency.

Grandma quickly spooned the divinity onto wax paper. Sometimes she added pecans, other times, the divinity was “smooth.” When set, they were nestled in the red tin for her grandchildren to “find.”

As an adult, I’ve tried unsuccessfully to recreate Grandma’s divinity. Mine remains too soft and gritty. (Even?Paula Deen?says it takes “divine intervention” to pull this recipe off.)? The funny thing is, I don’t mind.?I like to think of divinity as Grandma’s specialty.

A retro holiday dessert Image: yotamakblogs.com

A retro holiday dessert
Image: yotamakblogs.com

My Grandpa also provided us with a favorite holiday treat. Having worked for Foremost Dairy,?he always brought home their ?“flaming snowballs” – a popular holiday treat in the 1960s and 1970s. White balls of vanilla ice cream, a thin icing, covered in flaky coconut, with a bit of “holly” on top (originally frosting, it was later swapped for plastic holly to our great disappointment). The snowballs came six to a box, with red candles and individual serving doilies. ?Fancy!

For me, it was less about the taste then the experience. There was Grandpa dimming the lights, his face now aglow in the light of a tray of flaming snowballs while we toasted Christmas or the New Year. Magical!

Writing this post as a Bookboard mom, I stared thinking about magical treats from children’s books, too: the maple syrup candy in the?Little House books, the?Turkish delight in?The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe,?or my personal favorite, ?the chocolate river in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.?Yum, yum, yum!

Whether you’re reading about treats or making them this time of year, we wish you and yours a sweet holiday season and New Year!



Diana is a sociologist, freelance writer and mom, though rarely in that order. Her writing spans topics from parenting joys and challenges to prevention education. She writes a monthly parenting blog for Yahoo and has published feature articles on adoption, family rituals and the childcare industry for parenting publications. Diana earned her Ph.D. in sociology from the University of California at Santa Cruz. These days find her hanging with her husband and book-loving six year old in the San Francisco Bay Area, while happily blogging and serving as a reading advocate for Bookboard.


  1. Jordan

    January 3, 2014 at 10:54 am

    Context is everything. My holiday treat memories are of the vanilla caramels my mother made, and the Scottish shortbread that her mother made (from a recipe she brought from “the old country”). In due time, I became the candymaker. I have the tattered Women’s Day cookbook that holds the recipe. My Mother inherited the shortbread duty, and I have the faded stained recipe card that my grandmother gave her. Flaming Snowballs were a “fail” in our house – no one liked the coconut. And my mother had tried divinity once, with disastrous results. It had failed to set, and during the night flowed off the tray and down the side of the clothes dryer where it dried hard and permanent until that appliance was replaced sometime when I was in middle school.

    • Diana

      January 3, 2014 at 11:02 am

      Jordan, your description of the divinity sliding off the tray onto the dryer had me in tears of recognition (my divinity efforts were truly a disaster). Ditto on the fact that not everyone is a coconut fan (my husband hates it, so he doesn’t understand my fondness for the snowballs). As you note, the context is everything. I think your family traditions around caramels and shortbreads (favorites!) sound delicious. Thanks for sharing!

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