Monday, December 23, 2013

Boiled Fudge: A Vintage Christmas Tradition

As we get close to Christmas, the people on my Mom's side of the family cannot help but think about our aunt Meme, who is mentioned in the "About Me" section on the left side of this blog.  As she is the one who really got me interested in cooking on a woodburning cookstove, I also wrote about her at length in the post about her toy cookstove.

Christmas was definitely Meme's favorite time of year.  In the days before macular degeneration got the better of her eyesight, she would spend time making lots of Christmas crafts.  She anticipated Christmas presents in much the same way that a child does, and I never will forget how funny she was when our family was opening gifts.  You see, because she was born in 1895, she had been the oldest person in our family since 1962 when her older brother (my great-grandfather) died.  Unfortunately for her, that side of the family has the tradition of having the youngest person unwrap one of his gifts first; then the second youngest gets to unwrap one of his gifts, and so on and so forth until the oldest person gets to unwrap one of her gifts, after which the whole process starts again with the youngest.  Meme couldn't bear the wait, and very often we would glance over at her and catch her secretly unwrapping a corner of one of her gifts.  In fact, sometimes she would have all of the tape undone on a present by the time we got to her, and all that would be left for her to do would be to pull the paper away in one fell swoop. 

As we were making plans for the two geese that my brother purchased for our Christmas dinner this year, my mother and my aunt recalled how much Meme liked to have roast goose on Christmas because that had been the traditional Christmas dinner of her childhood.  She also was the one who made all of the old-fashioned Christmas candies for the family.  The three that she made most often were penuche, divinity, and fudge.

Meme started having me help her with the Christmas candy making in 1985.  I remember that specifically because for my fifth grade Valentine party later that school year, she and I made divinity that was flavored with strawberry jello, and I remember thinking that the plain old white stuff was better.  By that time, Meme had quit making penuche, but she and I made fudge and divinity together every Christmas from 1985 through 1991.  In the late winter of 1992, Meme had a bout of bad health that spelled the end of her ability to live on her own, so I have made the Christmas candy by myself since then, with occasional help from others.  Today, my sister was my helper.  She and I figured out that the last time we made Christmas candy together was in 1995--before I had purchased the Qualified range.  Of course, all of today's cooking was done on the Margin Gem.

Of all of the candies that we make, I think that my favorite is Meme's old-fashioned, boiled fudge.  I suspicion that the recipe belonged to her mother, so the recipe has passed the century-old mark some time ago.  Meme told me that when she and her sister were old enough to make the candy on their own, it became their responsibility.  Their mother didn't help with the candy making because she did all of the other cooking.  This fudge is not the creamy, buttery fudge that is common today.  In my book, that kind of fudge is okay, but the problem is that it often calls for chocolate chips.

WARNING: I'm about to write something disparaging about chocolate chips!  This may seem sacrilegious to some people, so I thought I'd give you fair notice.

I love chocolate chips in cookies and bars (and occasionally by the handful), but in fudge I don't want to be able to detect that old familiar, any-old-Tuesday-afternoon taste.  This fudge couldn't be called fancy or gourmet, but it is out of the ordinary.

Meme's recipe simply read as follows:

2 c. white sugar
1 c. half and half
1 1/2 squares unsweetened chocolate
2 TBLSP white corn syrup
1 tsp. vanilla

And here's the kicker: The directions for the recipe consist of one word--"Cook."

Well, it's a good thing that I had a few years to have Meme teach me how to make fudge.  Otherwise, I would have had a terrible time figuring out how to "cook" this.  Here is what you do:

Combine sugar, half and half, chocolate, and corn syrup in a heavy bottomed saucepan.  I use a 3-quart one.

Bring to a boil over medium high heat (I usually start this directly over the fire).  Stir enough to get everything evenly mixed.

When the mixture begins to boil, you can move it away from the fire.  You just need to keep it at a slowly rolling boil.  Meme always warned me to only stir it occasionally while it is cooking--just enough to make sure that it is not sticking to the bottom of the pan--because you don't want it to get sugary.

The fudge mixture boiling in the middle of the stovetop.
As the fudge cooks, you'll see the chocolate become more thoroughly mixed into the sugar, and of course, the sugar will begin to darken a little too.

You can see how the look of the fudge has changed by the time
this picture was snapped.  The fudge is just about finished cooking.

The length of time that you cook the fudge is totally dependent upon what you desire the texture of the final product to be like.  Meme always made her fudge a little grainy, so she would cook it past the soft ball stage.  I like it to be more smooth, so I cook it only to the soft ball stage.  I use the cold water test, as I talked about in depth in my post about Christmas caramels.

As soon as it has reached the stage that you desire, remove it from the fire and start beating it.  Add a teaspoon of vanilla flavoring at this point.

Of course, the saucepan is very hot, so I always
cover my lap with a folded bath towel.
 Immediately, begin beating the fudge until it thickens and looses its glossiness.

You can see that the fudge is just about ready to be poured.

Pour the fudge into a buttered 8x8 cake pan and let it finish cooling and setting up.  Once it is cool, you can cut the fudge into squares and store it in tins.

I'll be the first to admit that this recipe for fudge is not for everyone.  My dad misses the fudge that my grandmother on that side of the family used to make (complete with melted chocolate chips and marshmallows), but this old recipe is what I consider my favorite Christmas candy.



  1. I loved that you shared your family Christmas story and the fudge recipe. This sounds like the fudge my grandma always made-and she liked it grainy too.
    Merry Christmas

    1. Thanks, Kathy. Merry Christmas to you too!

  2. Looks yummy! I agree with you on the chocolate chips they don't need to be in everything. Great story! Have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

  3. I just made this fudge, but it hasn't set yet.

    I don't know how it will turn out yet, because I live at a high-altitude, and the high-altitude presents a problem for just about anything.

    But I will say this: I took a couple of sample tastes with a spoon. It tasted like the same kind of gourmet chocolate you might find in Europe! Absolutely delicious.

    If it doesn't set properly due to the altitude, I already made plans to turn it into ice cream fudge. Thanks for sharing.

    I wonder what the penuche tasted like? I'd never heard of it until today.



    1. I hope the fudge turned out for you. I've often thought that it would be excellent on ice cream, though, so no matter what, it's a win-win.

      Some people call penuche "maple fudge," although there is no maple flavoring in it. Basically it is a caramel fudge, and it too is fantastic, but it is a really challenging recipe. There is nothing out of the ordinary in it, but the method is different, and in my experience so far, it is very touchy. Unfortunately, we didn't cook this year's batch long enough. It ended up being silky smooth and tastes amazing, but it is nearly impossible to eat without making a terrible mess. I'll polish my skills and hopefully blog about it next Christmas.

  4. The fudge was absolutely delicious, but it was a little bit dry. Subsequent research on the Internet revealed the fact that fudge recipes, indeed, need to have adjustments at high altitudes.

    Intrigued by your post, I also found a recipe for penuche. It tasted exactly as you described--a cross between maple syrup, really, and caramel, but once again, because I didn't adjust for the altitude, it was very hard, almost as hard as peanut brittle. It tasted delicious, though.

    I'd be interested in hearing about your Aunt Meme's penuche recipe, if you feel inclined to share it. Its complexity alone renders it intriguing.

    Your faithful reader,


    1. Your experiences are interesting to me as I know nothing about high altitude cooking. I'm going to wait until next Christmas to blog about the penuche, though, so you'll have to be patient I'm afraid. Thanks for reading!