Blue Ridge Country November/December 2020 - 63

F L AV O R S

Divine Secrets of Syrup and Sugar
At Christmastime, the young women in Ada Hornsby
Earnest's home economics classes at East Tennessee State
College (now East Tennessee State University) took home
more than knowledge. For the train trip back home, they
packed away cartons of divinity candy, stirred and stiffly
beaten by the hands of their experienced teacher, who
claimed her foamy formula "never failed."
Mrs. Earnest taught in one of the original departments, Domestic Science, after having enrolled as a student in 1912, during the first academic year of East Tennessee State Normal School's existence. According to an
early catalogue, the required course in home economics
covered "the necessities of daily home life, the material
and forces with which the housekeeper has to deal." For
Mrs. Earnest, divinity candy was a way to add grandeur
and elegance to those necessities, elevating the most accessible of ingredients-water, sugar, syrup, eggs, vanilla
and nuts-to a confection worthy of its churchly name.
Ada Hornsby Earnest, who died
in 1982 at age 96, used to recite the
"Prayer of a Homemaker" to each
one of her home economics classes
at East Tennessee State. She did so
for the final time in 1963, eight years
after she had retired from teaching.
The prayer speaks of the homemaker
seeking sainthood not by quiet contemplation and study but through
the dignity of work, "by getting
meals and washing up the plates."
Folks around East Tennessee who
have made her divinity candy late in
December for years without blemish,
fault, or imperfection say her prayer
was answered.

Eastern Kentucky Eggnog
Dr. Joe Florence, now of Jonesborough, Tennessee, was a country doctor in the community of Ary, Kentucky, when a colleague showed up
at a Christmas party in 1983 carrying
a punch bowl full of this eggnog that
she had learned to make in Upstate
New York. Now it's one of the most
popular offerings during gatherings in
Tennessee's oldest town.

Mrs. Earnest's Never-Fail Divinity
⅓ cup water
1⅓ cups white sugar
⅓ cup white Karo syrup
1 egg white, stiffly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ cup chopped nuts, coconut, or candied cherries.
(Mrs. Earnest used green and red cherries at Christmastime.
The nuts she used were typically pecans or black walnuts.)
Cook together the water, sugar, and Karo syrup until it spins
a thread. (Some old candy thermometers have a marking for
"Thread," at around 230 degrees. The "thread" is a very thin,
wispy filament that appears when you dip a spoonful of the
mixture out of the pan.) Pour half the syrup over the stiffly
beaten egg white, beating all the time. Cook the remaining syrup to the "crack" stage (300
degrees) when tested in cold water.
Continue beating the first mixture while
pouring the rest of the syrup into it.
When it begins to hold its shape, add
vanilla and nuts, coconut, or cherries.
Continue beating until it holds its shape
well. If it should not hold its shape as
desired, add a tablespoon of sifted
powdered sugar, or 2 tablespoons, if
needed. Drop from a teaspoon onto
waxed paper. Cool and store in an
airtight box.
Ada Hornsby Earnest was a pioneer in the teaching of
home economics and was well-known for her divinity
candy. Photo courtesy Archives of Appalachia.

Eggnog to Eat or Drink
6 eggs at room temperature
¾ cup sugar, divided
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 pint half-and-half or whipping cream
Whole milk
Half gallon of vanilla ice cream
Freshly grated nutmeg to taste
Optional: Rum or Kentucky bourbon
to taste

Beat egg yolks with ½ cup sugar. Add
vanilla, half-and-half, and enough milk
to make 1½ quarts of liquid. Beat egg
whites and ¼ cup of sugar until stiff. Fold
egg white mixture into milk mixture and
add the ice cream. Guests can add nutmeg and rum or bourbon to taste.
Fred and Jill Sauceman study and
celebrate the foodways of Appalachia
and beyond from their home base in
Johnson City, Tennessee.

NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2020

63



Blue Ridge Country November/December 2020

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