The recipe wasn’t a secret; it was first printed on the side of the silver-and-brown Hershey’s Unsweetened Cocoa container in the 1960s, back when the container was made of tin and you had to push a spoon or the edge of a butter knife up under the lip of the lid to pop it off. You could never really wipe off the dusting of cocoa powder that settled around the top of the container, and the metal lid always rusted, so maybe that’s why Hershey’s changed to a plastic container. But I don’t have the answer for why they removed the fudge recipe.
I worry that there’ll be a generation of people who’ll never know what that old-fashioned, homemade fudge was like: crumbly, crackly, a melt-in-your-mouth texture like a buttermint, but with a firmness to it, too, different from anything you can buy in the store or even in a specialty fudge shop.
I knew it was officially Christmastime when my grandmother cleared off the table on her back porch to set out sheet pans full of fudge to cool before she cut them into cubed pieces. She made pounds of this fudge at Christmastime for us to eat and to give as gifts, wrapping it up in festive tins that she bought at Eagles Five and Dime. We never had it any other time but during the holidays. Despite the minimal ingredients — no sweetened condensed milk or chocolate chips or nuts or marshmallows — my grandmother claimed that this fudge was notoriously difficult to make, finicky and exacting, and in her lifetime, she probably threw away as many batches as she’d made, due to the fudge crystallizing or not setting up properly.
You have to have a cold day, she insisted. No humidity. Bring cocoa, sugar, and milk to a boil. Do not stir! Make sure it passes the “soft ball” test by dropping a pinch of fudge into a bowl of cold water. Add butter and vanilla, let the mixture cool in the pot, and then beat the daylights out of it, always with a wooden spoon, until it loses its glossy sheen before turning it out onto a pan.
Eventually, after years of watching my grandmother make that candy, noticing techniques that can’t be written down, my mother took up the mantle at our house, following the precise instructions, waiting for a cold day, using a wooden spoon, cooling the fudge in pans, wrapping it all up on festive plastic plates, and carrying forth a tradition that meant so much in our family. I remember the smell of rich chocolate boiling on the stove — the whole house would smell of chocolate all day — and if I closed my eyes, I could easily be transported back to my grandmother’s kitchen, too, those sweet smells and sounds, the burble of chocolate in the pot, the slap of the spoon, the crinkle of wax paper, connecting the years as if no time had passed at all.
When Christmas gets closer and the temperature drops and my mom pulls out the ingredients for this year’s batch, I’ll be there with her, observing, watching, memorizing techniques that can’t be written down. And when it’s time — a transfer of the wooden spoon, a handed-down recipe, my own search for just the right plates — I’ll be ready, keeping that link between then and now going.
Elizabeth Hudson Editor in Chief
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