For those first years after we moved to Toledo, we still called it “mother’s house” and then we began to refer to it simply as “the other house.”
That was a glorious summer of complete freedom. My husband grew a beard and took a car top to make a boat which he used on the river. I spent a good bit of time with my grandmother, Viva Adams. Although I had been married four years, my culinary skills were limited to eggs, hamburgers and hot dogs. I thought I knew how to make spaghetti, but believe me, I know now that I didn’t have a clue.
My grandmother taught me to make fudge that summer, a sweet delight that has worked well for me through the decades. I’ve made it on special occasions and once won first place in Orange County, Calif., for a Chocolate Sunday fundraiser when I competed with professional chocolatiers for that honor. I named it Presidential Fudge, and it was part of a display for the National Issues Forum (I served on the Orange County board of this organization).
A week or so after this event, I received a 7 a.m., call from a faculty member at the college where I was chancellor. She was requesting the fudge recipe. My response, “It’s a secret, passed to me by my grandmother, and I don’t give it out.”
Why would I want to share this recipe and let all of those who had marveled at my fudge know they could reproduce it? Before I learned the magic recipe, I had many failed attempts with fudge — you could sip it through a straw or it was as hard as concrete.
The holidays are coming up, and I have decided to share the recipe with my readers (I say “my readers” with some pride, because I regularly check the online edition of the paper to see if anyone really reads my columns or if they’re just space fillers for the newspaper).
I know you’ve been seeing the special shelves at Walmart with all those ingredients for making holiday goodies and might have said to yourself, that’s all well and good, but what do you do with those ingredients? The last time I tried, nothing was fit to eat.
My grandmother’s fudge is a simple recipe yet doomed to failure if you don’t follow the directions precisely. Start with a big thick pot. No, Dollar Store kettles will not work and neither will those non-stick pots. The best pot is a pressure cooker – without the lid, of course.
Mix in that pot five cups of granulated sugar, one 12 ounce can of evaporated milk, a half cup of Karo syrup (more or less) and a stick of margarine. No, you can’t use butter; no, you can’t use margarine substitutes; no, you can’t use pancake low calorie syrup; no, you can’t use reduced-calorie evaporated milk.
Put the mixture on the heat (If I’m in a hurry, I put it on high, but I’d recommend a little lower than that). You must stir it constantly with a wooden spoon. No, you can’t go to the bathroom; no, you can’t go to the living room to check up to see whether that firearm on Pawn Shop is authentic or a reproduction.
The mixture will start to boil, and no, I don’t use a candy thermometer. You keep stirring as it boils, taking care from the onset that your wooden spoon is long enough so that the boiling mixture does not pop out and burn your hand or lower arm.
After, say three or four minutes of boiling, the mixture does a funny thing. By “funny thing,” I mean the color changes slightly and it seems to not be distributed in a flat way, as it was when it first started to boil.
Have a small bowl/cup of cold water and start testing by dropping a fourth of a teaspoon of the mixture straight into the water. You want the confection to be at the medium ball stage, neither soft nor hard.
At the medium ball stage, take it off the heat and place the pot in cold water if you’re in a hurry to hasten the cooling process. Throw in five or six marshmallows if you have them and want to and add whatever. You can tell when the mixture is ready to pour because it will begin to hold its shape. My grandmother had a marble top table where I poured the mixture. That table was passed down to my mother and then on to me.
The big question is what do you mean, Vivian, by “adding whatever”? I’ll make some suggestions: chocolate chips, bitter or milk chocolate; butterscotch chips; very generous amounts of pecans or walnuts (not salted or candied); coconut; maraschino cherries, peanut butter — a whole jar.
I don’t recommend mixing chocolate and peanut butter because it develops a grainy texture. If you want the chocolate and peanut butter taste, layer it: a layer of chocolate, a layer of peanut butter, a layer of chocolate.
One final caution: if the mixture is cooling too fast and hardening before you can add what you want, have a kettle of hot water and add a tablespoon of hot water at a time until you get it where you want it again.
If you’ve decided by now that making fudge from scratch is not for you, that’s all right.
A final caution: I gained two pounds that summer, the first time ever in my life that I had weighed more than 125 pounds. And I got pregnant with my first son. It was a great summer.