All Fudged Up

How Brownies and Fudge Became Purely Michigan

Kilwins Fudges are well-loved all over the United States

The smell of fudge for many Michiganders brings back childhood memories of their first time at a fudge maker no matter if it’s in Frankenmuth, Kilwins, and Murdick’s on the west side of the state, or up in Mackinaw Island. Everyone is a child at a fudge shop even the adults who were once children themselves don’t know which one to get. For me, it’s Mint Chocolate, Sea Salt Carmel, or Cookies and Cream with hidden chunks of Oreos in every bite with white chocolate that tastes like cream akin to eggnog without the alcohol or egg taste.

Mackinaw Island fudge has a creamy caramel aftertaste that comes before the velvety chocolate that is found and replicated throughout the state of Michigan with tough love. We like our fudge in all sorts of sweets including Hudsonville Ice Cream which layers itself well with the ice cream, fudge makers show us how magical fudge making can be yet all of the fudge makings are based on the magic of chemistry.

Ganache is akin to the science experiment of melting an ice cube into the water or melting hard chocolate or chocolate chips to make the ganache. Mix fudge liquid with coconut oil and butter and you get your Shell Topping which is better homemade than in the bottle. Mix fudge liquid with a batter mix, oil, and water and you have the amazing fudge brownie. Fudge is versatile no matter what chocolate is used but the ingredients are melted chocolate, melted butter, and steamy sweetened condensed milk that has to harden on a cool surface. If you have made Seven Layer Bars you know what sweetened condensed milk is and it should never be put in the freezer like I did to try to cool it because it becomes as hard as brittle. The sweetened condensed milk unlike real milk gives fudge the famous chocolate warm blanket taste that can be soft, chunky, or chewy. Fudge also lasts longer in the fridge, even if it’s been there a long time it can still be eaten.

Murdick’s Fudge in Petoskey, MI

Making fudge is a laborious task, making and cooling fudge at home takes 2 or 3 hours for a home cook. Compare that to the professional makers who boil the liquid in a copper pot at a high heat much like a wok at Willy Wonkas factory which has an eye on the temperature, then the hot wok is poured onto a mold on a marble surface to cool and even out the fudge. Then add the flavor and the hefty task of folding the heavy liquid chocolate over the flavor mixture done repeatedly until the fudge forms the famous lumpy dome that is very recognizable to every Michigander until cooled and then ready to slice up with a giant knife for customers.

I have always loved baking and grew up with good bakers and people who understood baking as making good and flavorful food. One was my Mom and the other was my Grandmother Lill whose mother my great Oma taught her how to bake. Her favorite treat was a combination of brownie, cherry jelly, custard, and fudge called a Wurfel meaning Cube in German; this dish was called for a long time the German-Lady Cake until recently I discovered the recipe on a German website Chefkochen.

The origin of both Fudge and Brownie in the Americas comes from German Americans who brought their chocolate recipes and chocolate with them, although some speculate that the recipe originated from Baltimore from a student at Vassar College and the Scottish, Chocolate Fudge is mostly an invention Germans and German Americans perfected and modified. Milton Hershey was himself a son of German immigrants and tried endlessly to replicate the cocoa powder and chocolate bars that German immigrants brought with them. His life mostly resembles that of Charlie from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with no gold tickets, cooky elders in one bed, Ompa Loompas, or edible grass. Also in his time children worked in factories alongside women and men, and most of the chocolate from overseas was dark chocolate from Europe with a very fruity aftertaste after the bitterness.

He worked his way at a dairy in Lancaster, Pennlyania making milky caramels and other dairy products, and wanted to found his factory where workers had everything including a park that is still operating to this very day. I have been to Hershey, Pennsylvania which smells of chocolate chip cookies because of Hersey and his partner’s discovery which is used in fudge making. Back then milk was not extremely pasteurized like it is now, so they would boil and burn the mixture first until all impurities evaporated hence the cookie smell dominating the town even today. Hershey’s famous chocolate cake and the frosting has been copied thanks to the recipe on the cocoa tin in almost everyone’s household, it also gave Greman Americans freedom to replicate their homeland dishes including the Tortte, Sheet Cakes, melted to make Fuge, and the Brownie.

Great British Bake-Off contestants fail to make brownies

German American’s took pride in the brownie which was why is an unknown recipe to Britten. In one episode of The Great British Bake-Off or the British Nailed It; every contestant struggled to make a brownie while my Grandmother laughs from the clouds. Yet they stole our idea of the tortte to make German Chocolate Cake all to promote Bakers Chocolate. They also took pride in their fudge making too which is where Hershey’s chocolate originated from which is why many Europeans constantly debate over whether a Hershey bar is real chocolate, especially in Britten where people think, it tastes like vomit. This real-life battle with Britten encouraged Hershey to ban the sale of Britsh chocolate like Canterbury known for the famous Easter Eggs sold every spring sold by a clucking bunny who is now egged by Hershey.

Also, in countries like Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and Belgium the Lords of Chocolate requires 20% cocoa for chocolate to be considered chocolate. These countries are to chocolate what Naples, Italy is to pizza which is very restrictive but even European makers like Nestle have not acknowledged that most of the labor going into their cocoa come from not Ompa Loompa’s but actual people who began harvesting as children something Milton Hershey fought against as he was an orphan and laboring child worker.

The process of harvesting chocolate is harsh and brutal as men harvest ripe cocoa pods to dry the seeds in the hot sun to become ground into the chocolate we use to make many things. Cocoa is not just a South or Central American plant for many sub-species grow in West Africa and even in Southwest Asia with different flavors depending on climate and soil. Chocolate tastes good but we must also know where our food comes from and the history behind it no matter how brutal.

We as German Americans whose ancestors were also abolitionists have to acknowledge the brutal history of slave labor and that history is a part of fudge making, yet hard chocolate can melt into many things to make something sweet and like fudge, our state can make change too. Our state was part of the underground railroad and fought for the union army during the Civil War, our state fought for unions and workers to have rights and protection, Michel Moore’s Roger & Me fought back at a corrupt GM who deionized and allowed unions to fall apart. Fudge is also very labor-intensive in the cooling and folding process on a block of marble and if we care about labor then fudge is what makes a Michigander.

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Christina Bishop

Christina Bishop

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Tuba player, creator of Struwwelkinder and The Flying Circus Orchestra