A Brief History of….Oh, fudge! Part 1

The silky sweet kiss of this traditional American confection is enjoyed year ’round but there’s just something that hums through the crisp holiday dark that starts me almost drooling in anticipation. People have been trotting tins and plates of these squares to their neighbors and loved ones since the Victorian era, most particularly at times such as Christmas and birthdays when we love to gift each other….or just indulge.

Tripping Down Memory Lane:

While it is an incredibly common homemade candy today when it comes to a comparison of candy traditions fudge is a surprisingly “young” tradition dating back only to the 1880’s (compared to caramel which dates to about 1000 ad or iced fruit (think: ice cream) that goes back around 5000 years). You’ll find an avalanche of google videos and articles talking about how it is actually a messed up attempt at a chocolate caramel that was too good to be thrown in the trash bin, and it quickly gained popularity particularly among college girls who would gather late at night over a “hot plate” to cook the treat and gab quietly (no one wanted the house-mother to catch them, though, since they weren’t allowed on account of accidental fires that sometimes happen when young girls are distracted while cooking!), especially when those girls would then sell the sweet squares to raise money for their college graduating class. Before you knew it, colleges were creating their own “original” recipes and publications started printing them across America and a truly American candy was born.

Given the drop in sugar prices and the simplicity of the method in equipment already owned, fudge was quickly adopted as a staple treat by many. When WWI launched this American treat had become a staple that was taught to so many that there are even stories of POW’s making a simple version of this in their camps and sharing it with their fellow inmates, though it was still a very “American” treat. The Depression saw the candy continue to be enjoyed, surprisingly enough. Sugar was easy to find, and so many women and girls were using those old “college fudge night” memories to make and sell treats…only this time, to help keep a roof over the family’s heads. Even when shortages began to really “hit home” during WWII and everyone was finding ways to contribute to “the war effort” again, fudge was still being used similarly…but most especially treasured and sent to soldiers to continue to give them a piece of home that even Hershey’s had a hard time competing with. There are even stories of soldiers who creatively found ways to make a scrappy version of the confection while being held in POW camps.

When I started down the research rabbit hole for this one, I confess that just like so many other Americans the iconic image of blue eyes behind glasses groaning “ohhhhh….fuuuuuuuuudgggggge!” has been dancing through my mind’s eye and in my ears. It got me more and more curious to know the source of the phrase. Until that moment, I’d always figured that the slang “to fudge that” (and it’s variations) was a result of the candy. Fun fact, though: theory has it that English sailors are behind creating this after the phrase “fadge” (commonly used in the 1500-1600’s, meaning “make suit or fit with little”). It seems there was a Captain Fudge who had was so well known for being one who “always brought home his owners a good cargo of lies” (Isaac Disraeli, 1791, citing a pamphlet from 1700) that he was known as Lying Fudge who would always “contrive without the necessary materials”. Sailors being travelers, they carried such things wherever they went and 100 years later inspired the name of this American candy long before it was taken back across “the pond”.

What Makes It Fudge?

Now to the meat of the matter, as it were. What is it that makes fudge….well, such an incredible indulgence that we’ll stand in lines to watch it being made in confectionary shops on the boardwalks before melting those little bits across our tongue (and refuse to admit to it when we have to weigh ourselves or talk to a doctor later)?

Fudge connoisseurs will be the first to tell you that just like chocolate: there might be a wild variety of flavors, additions, and looks that can be enjoyed but there really are good and bad fudges. The good are what we want to focus on here, so I’ll just say that if you find yourself paying for a grainy, flavorless, too sweet mix….don’t call it fudge, call it overpriced flavored sugar grains.

Fudge is an incredibly rich, creamy candy that literally melts on your tongue, coating it and saturating the senses without having to chew it and without it being a liquid. Accomplishing that “full mouth feel” without it being grainy at all can be surprisingly hard to achieve….unless you understand the magical alchemy involved. While we aren’t reasonably able to give away our gourmet recipes (sorry, guys, our kids deserve to eat too!), we want to help anyone interested in learning to make fudge themselves using some of the safe and popular methods readily available. The ingredients are really pretty simple (they’re usually found in your kitchen cupboards!) and the equipment is the same, plus there are a lot of cheater-options available out there. However if you want a real fudge what you really need is to know the techniques involved rather than just another recipe. The next fudge article will get you started….are you ready? This is going to be fun (and just in time for the start of the winter holiday season)!!

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