The history of fudge: Did a mistake create a sweet treat?
This time of year, freezing temperatures are nothing unusual in northern Michigan. But there's one kitchen that knows a recipe for keeping warm. Original Murdick's Fudge has been in operation since 1887, when it first opened its doors on Michigan's Mackinac Island.
"Fudge is Mackinac Island, synonymous with Mackinac Island," said owner Bob Benser. "I put a little piece of fudge sometimes in my coffee in the morning, a little piece of double chocolate fudge. You get the sugar, the cream cafe mocha-type flavor!"
Mackinac Island, between Michigan's Upper and Lower Peninsulas, is the self-proclaimed "Fudge Capital of America." The car-free oasis has more than a dozen fudge shops. During the summer, fudge-loving tourists (affectionately called "fudgies") flood the island.
To meet the demand each shop can make up to five hundred pounds a day!
But even when temperatures and tourism cool, fudge remains a hot item.
Salie said, "Fudge seems like a natural fit for Valentine's Day."
"We all love chocolates at Valentine's Day, right?" said Benser. "So, why wouldn't you like fudge?"
That appetite for fudge dates back more than a century.
Food historian Joyce White says fudge is based on a recipe for chocolate caramels, which was very similar. "What probably happened is that there was someone in Baltimore, messed it up, or 'fadged' it," she said. "Fadge is a word that means you messed up. I fadged it, or I fudged it. Nowadays, we use a different F-word to say that, right?"
By 1888, that Baltimore recipe was passed along to a student at Vassar College (then all women) in Poughkeepsie, New York. "Women would make fudge in their dorm rooms," said White, "doing something against the rules, in the late evenings and trying to get away with something not condoned in the rulebook."
"And at the same time, men at men's colleges were out carousing?" asked Salie.
"It was a woman's way of being rebellious," said White. "Cooking in the dorm at night! Breaking every rule, in the way that was still considered lady-like."
Soon, so-called "Vassar fudge" ended up at other women's colleges, even making headlines around the country.
- Vassar Fudge recipe (Vassar Alumnae/i Quarterly)
Fast forward a century, and the recipe for fudge hasn't changed much: Sugar, milk, butter and chocolate mixed, poured onto a marble slab, and then "worked" until the mixture solidifies.
At the Original Murdick's St. Ignace location, veteran fudge maker Carnel Samuels turns the 45-minute process into a 30-pound loaf of fudge.
Making fudge is certainly harder than it looks, but if its history has taught us anything, it's that mistakes can be sweet any way you slice it.
For more info:
- Original Murdick's Fudge
- Food historian Joyce White (A Taste of History)1
- Thanks to Maryland Center for History and Culture, Baltimore
Story produced by Sara Kugel. Editor: George Pozderec.
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