February 15, 1995 in Food

Grammie Ethel’s Chocolate Fudge Sweet Addition To Your Recipe File

Steven Raichlen Los Angeles Times Service

My grandmother is not the best cook in our family (that distinction goes to my aunt Annette, as my grandmother freely admits). But Grammie Ethel does make two or three dishes that have won her an honored place in the family’s culinary pantheon.

The first is a chicken noodle soup you fairly ache for when you have a cold. The second is a cookie so buttery and crisp, family members have almost come to fisticuffs over who gets the last one. But the most formidable weapon in her kitchen arsenal is Grammie Ethel’s Chocolate Fudge.

On a recent visit to Baltimore, where I grew up and where my grandmother still lives, we pulled out the ancient pot she has used for fudge-making since she was a newlywed.

We stood at the stove, side by side, boiling the milk and sugar, adding the chocolate at precisely the right moment and beating the fudge just enough to make it creamy, but not so much that it breaks.

We poured the molten fudge into a battered pie pan that has served since my father was in diapers. And once it had hardened, we bit into fudge that is equally remarkable for its rich, deep, intensely chocolatey flavor as it is for its lack of sugary cloy.

According to food historian John Mariani, fudge may well have originated in Baltimore, based on a letter found in the Vassar College archives.

It seems to have achieved its first widespread popularity at New England womens’ colleges in the early 1900s. Cookbooks of the period abound with recipes for the likes of Vassar fudge, Smith College fudge and Wellesley fudge.

Divinity fudge, which is flavored with candied cherries and lightened with egg whites, came into existence around 1910. “The new candy … was undoubtedly responsible for helping many students gain their `freshman fifteen,”’ Mariani writes, referring to the traditional number of pounds put on during the first year of college.

While “fudge” was first used to describe candy in 1896, the word has been around a lot longer.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, in the 1760s fudge was uttered as an “inarticulate expression of indignant disgust,” of “contemptible nonsense.” This use survives today in the way a prim person might exclaim, “Oh, fudge!”

The dictionary traces the second meaning of the word fudge, “to make up” or “falsify,” to an 18th century seaman named - I kid you not - Captain Fudge. The captain could always be counted on to bring the ship’s owners “a good cargo of lies,” as one wag wrote.

And in newspaper parlance, a “fudge box” was a device attached to a printing press that allowed late news to be inserted while the press was still running. Important news, no doubt - like the recipe for Grammie’s fudge.

Grammie Ethel’s Chocolate Fudge

1 1/4 cups sugar

3/4 cup milk

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate (Grammie uses Baker’s)

5 tablespoons salted butter, cut into 1/2 inch slices

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

Bring sugar and milk to rolling boil in heavy saucepan over high heat. Boil until sugar is dissolved, about 2 minutes. Remove pan from heat and stir in chocolate with wooden spoon. Return to heat and cook until chocolate is completely melted, stirring often. Boil mixture 2 minutes.

Stir in butter and vanilla. Reduce heat to medium and cook fudge at slow boil until thick and bubbly, 15 to 20 minutes. Mixture should be consistency of caramel, and butter should be just beginning to separate out in shiny beads.

Remove pan from heat and beat fudge until slightly thickened (it should be the consistency of soft ice cream). Do not overbeat or fudge will be crumbly. Spoon fudge into lightly oiled 8-inch pie pan. Cut it into squares while still warm.

Yield: 18 to 20 pieces.


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