Fudge, a worldwide spread smooth and creamy confectionary, has a pretty recent and fun history whose roots are to be found at a female college called Vassar College.
Fudge can be considered as a drier version of fondant and a softer version of caramel. It is made from sugar, butter and milk. The mix of the main ingredients has to be heated to a certain temperature (116°C called as a soft-ball stage) and then it needs to be whisked while it cools down in order to get a creamy texture. After that, additional flavouring such as vanilla extract, fruits, chocolate or nuts can be added. Even though it seems very easy, the task of acquiring the well-known smooth texture depends on perfect temperature and timing. Failing to respect those two elements would result in the melted sugar getting rapidly crystallized into large blocks.
Unlike famous sweet treats such as shaved ice, ice cream, caramel and cotton candy that have ancient and diverse origins, the history of fudge can be considered very recent and truly American. Fudge was most likely invented in the last decades of the 19th century. It became popular because it was relatively simple and cheap to make thanks to the decreasing price of refined white sugar at that time. Because sugar, butter and milk, the only three ingredients of fudge, are the same as the ingredients of caramel toffee, it is very likely that the first fudge was made as a mistake, a “fudged” up toffee. It is also known as a kind of legend that the meaning of the word “fudge” changed when the dessert was invented. Originally it meant “to fit together” and since the 19th century the expression “Oh fudge!” has been often used when something is messed up. The inventor of the first “fudged up” toffee is absolutely unknown so the “official” history of fudge dates back to 1895 when a fudge recipe was printed in The Sun. The newspaper referred to the dessert as “Fudges at Vassar” because it was a very popular confectionery among college girls at Vassar College Poughkeepsie, New York.
With its modest size and only 500 inhabitants, Mackinac Island in northern Michigan is a pretty small island but with a strong identity. It considers itself the fudge capital of the world with the oldest fudge shop called May’s Candy from the late 19th century. Mackniac Island is a very touristy place especially during the summer when more than five tons of fudge get handcrafted every day which is amazingly a lot compared to the size of the local population. Currently on Mackinac Island 13 fudge stores serve tourists from all around the US and also produce fudge for export.
As we said, fudge is American but the recipe is so simple and the ingredients are so basic that it is not a surprising coincidence that other nations have their own versions of fudge. The Scottish version, called “tablet” is very close to the well-known American one, so one could even imagined that the recipe was possibly “stolen” from the Scots. Nevertheless, tablet is less smooth and creamy and more grainy. The Indian “barfi” has the same base as fudge but the dominant taste is from the added nuts such as pistachio or peanuts. Swedes have a traditional Christmas confectionery called “knack” that is a type of toffee made with heavy cream. Polish people also have their own fudge called “krówki” but it is a bit more complicated than the American one as it is crispy on the outside and creamy inside.
We can agree that “fudging up” caramel toffee was completely the opposite of an unwanted mistake. It created fudge, an amazingly adaptive confectionery that conquered not just the USA but the whole world.
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