For the back story to this post, please see Fudge, Feuds and My Poor Husband.
A simple batch of fudge is completely kicking my butt. Perhaps I should mention that there is absolutely NOTHING simple about making fudge. Fudge-making is science, people; 100% unadulterated hard-core science and it is not for the faint of heart or the feckless cook. This is very frustrating. Did I mention that precise science is not my thing?
My great-grandmother, Nini, passed when I was eight years old and I remember her vividly. I never once had her fudge though because age robbed her memory of the recipe long before I hit the scene. As it turned out, her lost secret family recipe wasn’t so lost after all. At the conclusion of an epic battle, my Mother, The Domestic Terrorist, handed over my great-grandmother’s long-lost fudge recipe with no obvious strings attached to the gift. I immediately suspected she was just screwing with me. It is important to remember who I’m dealing with here and some perspective is certainly in order.
When my paternal grandfather passed, it was no surprise as he suffered lung cancer; however, knowing his time with us was drawing to an end made his loss no less painful and we, his family, gathered at his home for several days together. As we mourned, we laughed over memories and sorted through belongings as many families have done for generations around the world. Overall, it was one of the best family memories of my life.
My grandfather collected several things and one of these was coins. One afternoon during our gathering, my Mother handed me a Kennedy half-dollar minted the year that I was born and told me that my grandfather wanted me to have it. I was floored. I could not believe that with everything going on (particularly after the sudden and unexpected loss of his wife six months earlier) he thought to leave me this coin. I was incredibly moved and on the verge of tears.
“He really wanted me to have this?” I asked in disbelief.
“No, I made it up but I thought it was nice.” It was the first time in my life that I had been rendered completely and utterly speechless.
I could have strangled that woman on the spot. “REALLY?! You couldn’t just let me live with the lie?!?! YOU COULDN’T JUST LET ME HAVE THIS MOMENT FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE?!?! What kind of a person DOES this?!?!”
As calmly as if we were discussing the weather she says, “Well, I couldn’t lie when you asked me a direct question. That’s wrong, Jamie. Do you really WANT me to lie to you?”
“YES. I. DO! What the [insert-mildly-inappropriate-word-here] is wrong with you?! Seriously? SERIOUSLY?! You couldn’t just let me have this could you?! Next time, can you PLEASE just [insert-very-inappropriate-word-here]-ING lie to me so that I can STAY happy when you make [insert-very-strong-word-for-poop-here] up?!?!”
“Well, okay, if that’s what is going to make you feel better,” she pouted innocently as if she was the victim here.
“YES!!!! That is exactly what will make me feel better when you lie to me!!! Really, lady?! Really?!?! JUST STICK WITH YOUR [insert-very-inappropriate-word-here]-ING STORY!!!!” With that, I huffed off in exasperation with my coin.
She stood in my wake with THAT look. The one your mother gets when she feels you are freaking out for absolutely no reason. It made me all the more furious. She was, after all, trying to do something nice for me. I was the one who had to go and ask the question. And everyone knows it’s wrong to lie to when someone asks you a direct question. Yes, yes… AS OPPOSED TO COMPLETELY MAKING [insert-thoughtfully-shrieked-chain-of-expilatives-here] UP!!!
At the time, I really could have throttled her. I was very happy with that lie and then she had to go and ruin it with something as inconsequential as the truth. I laugh about it now. No, really, I do and it didn’t even take years of therapy.
I got her back when I accidentally broke the arm off of the antique couch and glued it back on with Elmer’s wood glue. “See, Mommy? It’s no big deal to know the truth. It doesn’t take away from how pretty the couch is. Just don’t kick back against that arm.” I did a very professional job, too. I took off the upholstery, glued the arm back on, vice clamped it together, then stood the entire couch on it’s end for pressure. You know, so the glue grips nicely. I even shut the blinds so the neighbors couldn’t see. When it was dry I worked the upholstery over with a staple gun and glued the trim back on it. You couldn’t tell the difference. It was beautiful. I thought she would kill me. It’s one of my fondest memories.
Given our history, it is easy to see why I would suspect a fake fudge recipe, but to be perfectly honest she had me believing hook, line and sinker as she always does. You would be amazed how often I fall for her trickery, but I gave the fudge a try. Fudgewise, it was an epic disaster, but it did make excellent fudge sauce. How can something go so wrong? I started combing the Internet for advice. It became obvious to me that I needed to test my candy thermometer. It was 14 degrees off. DOH! See? She’s obviously still screwing with me… I happen to have my Mother’s candy thermometer. She left it at my house one time and never asked for it back. Since I didn’t have a candy thermometer of my own I didn’t say anything. The fudge just happened to be the first time I used it. She could have mentioned that she had to adjust for the difference on the off chance that I borrowed it from her and moved to New Hampshire with it. If you ask her, she would tell you that’s what I get for making off with her candy thermometer, but given her history, the whole thing was clearly a trap.
I tried the fudge again, taking the temperature difference into account. The fudge still would not form during the cold water test and the result was not much better. I started to wonder about the recipe. From what I had seen online, it was strange to me that the recipe called for the fudge syrup to cook to 234 degrees when soft ball stage is 235-240 degrees. In fact, most fudge recipes I saw called for it to cook to 240 degrees. Hmm… On the third try, I let it cook to 240 degrees and ended up with a rock crystal brick. I thought about saving it in case there’s ever a riot around here. The thing would totally bust open that uber thick coated security glass they use at jewelry stores.
I thought about it some more and there was just something about the recipe was kind of funny to me. Nini INSISTED that the only cocoa you should use for it was Hershey’s. Granted, cocoa is not cocoa is not cocoa. There are distinct differences between different cocoas but, honestly, Hershey’s is not a high-end cocoa. In fact, Hershey’s ranks pretty low (along with the other cocoas available in the grocery store) in taste testing. Why insist on Hershey’s? It hit me like a fudge failure rock crystal brick to the back of the head: Nini’s recipe had to be the Hershey’s cocoa fudge recipe.
Sure enough, it came up at the top of a Google search and was right on the Hershey’s website. Lost for more than thirty years, my great-grandmother’s secret family fudge recipe was hiding in plain sight on the back of a can of Hershey’s cocoa. In that moment, I knew my Mother was screwing with me again. In the next moment, I knew that she wasn’t. It suddenly made complete sense: my great-grandmother was a modern housewife so of course she used a Hershey’s recipe! Hershey’s and other giant companies went to great length to build brand loyalty among the housewives of America and Nini was no different.
I got the distinct privilege of informing my Mother that it was the Hershey’s recipe. She was floored. She didn’t want to believe me. It’s not that I like being the bearer of such scandalous news, but let’s face it: it was my turn to deliver the shock and awe. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!
Knowing that Nini’s secret recipe wasn’t such a secret, I wanted to feel robbed of something special and I think my Mother did too. But we couldn’t. On the Hershey’s website and several others that posted the recipe, there were hundreds of people who shared memories of their mothers and grandmothers making that fudge as their secret family recipe. Hershey’s stopped putting it on the cocoa tin sometime in the 1980s and the recipe became lost for many families. Mothers and grandmothers all across the country had to confess that the gig was up when they couldn’t make fudge anymore. I guess they figured the recipe would always be there. Folks were thrilled to have the recipe again to recreate their childhood favorite and share those memories with their children and grandchildren. I couldn’t help but smile. My great-grandmother’s fudge brought so much joy to so many families.
On the whole, I’m pretty pleased because it makes a nice family story. Besides, I can’t make this kind of stuff up. If you’ll excuse me, I have to go make fudge and polish my silver plate. It belonged to another great-grandmother of mine who smuggled it out of Mexico during a prohibition era tequila run. She was such a hero to that small, margarita-parched town and we’re all so proud of her.