What is fudge anyway?
Updated: Feb 24, 2019
There are so many flavors of this delectable treat from chocolate fudge to peanut butter fudge, it's difficult to decide on just one. Have you ever wondered where fudge came from? Did it just drop out of heaven one day? Not quite. In this post we'll discuss the origins of this popular sweet.
If you've ever walked down the main street of a small town or been to a gift shop or special attraction like a farmer’s market or antique fair, you've probably seen a sign for "fresh fudge." And if you tried it, you'll probably agree that it could be described as "little drops of heaven."
Now, for those of you living under a rock, asking the question, what is fudge, let me explain exactly what you are missing. By way of definition, fudge is a cooked chocolate confection made by combining sugar, butter and milk, heating it to 240 °F (116 °C), and then beating the mixture while it cools so that it acquires a smooth, creamy consistency. If made correctly, the fudge will be firm enough to hold its shape but moist enough to melt in your mouth with a symphony of sweetness and flavorful decadence for your taste buds. For many it is a throwback to days of yore, a joyous childhood memory of percolating nostalgia.
There is a plethora of fudge recipes out there, but most include chocolate, sugar, butter, and condensed milk, evaporated milk, or cream. Some recipes may include common additives including marshmallow fluff or cream, vanilla, and chopped nuts. Flavors can range from a traditional chocolate fudge or peanut butter to more eclectic flavors like maple bacon and cayenne pepper fudge. If you can dream it, there's probably a fudge recipe out there or a fudgemaster who has created it.
Fudge: A brief history
Where did this delicious treat called fudge even come from? Although historians may dispute, the history of fudge may predate the US revolution. Some experts point out the similarities between fudge and a Scottish confection, called tablet. Tablet is first mentioned in The Household Book of Lady Grisell Baillie, which was written between 1692 and 1733. The process of creating tablet start in a similar way as fudge, by boiling sugar, milk, and butter until they reach 235 to 240 degrees F at which point it is removed from heat to cool. During the tablet cooling process crystallization occurs causing large crystals to form, giving the candy a grainy and brittle texture that is quite unlike the soft, smooth, velvety texture of fudge.
The first American-style fudge was found, as the story goes, in 1889 in a letter written by Emelyn Battersby Hartridge, who was a student at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York. She wrote that her schoolmate's cousin made something called "fudge" in Baltimore, Maryland, and sold it for 40 cents a pound. Emelyn then obtained the fudge recipe and, in 1890, made a 30-pound batch of fudge for the Vassar College Senior Auction. The Vassar fudge recipe, which consisted of white sugar, cream, unsweetened chocolate and butter, became quite popular at the school for years to come.
Word of this popular new confectionery spread to other women's colleges like, Wellesley College and Smith College. Each altered the recipe slightly to create their own versions. Wellesley added marshmallows to help prevent collapse during the cooling phase. And Smith College added extra butter along with brown and white sugar, molasses and vanilla. Fudge-making evolved and changed over time with a variety of flavors and additives as it grew beyond its popularity at colleges. And the real game changer came with the advent of corn syrup which helps to prevent crystallization to create a smoother product.
Now that you've been fully prepped on the background, all this talk about fudge has probably made you hungry, or at least piqued your curiosity. It's time to go and find a fudge shop near you and taste for yourself the rich, smooth texture only a piece of great fudge can produce. No matter if you're new to fudgery or you've had it for years, that first bite always garners that sweet response, "ah yes, THIS is fudge."