The origin of fudge is unclear, but the history of fudge can be traced back to at least 1886 CE. The exact origin and the inventor of fudge remain disputed, but some experts believe that the word "fudge" was first applied to a botched batch of caramels, prompting the exclamation, "Oh fudge!" Most food historians believe that fudge, as it exists today, is an American invention.
Fudge is a crystalline confectionery. Unlike many other types of candy, such as taffy and caramels, which forgo crystallization, crystal formation is necessary for the creation of fudge. This process creates a candy that is firm yet smooth as the crystals are so small that they do not taste or feel grainy. The fudge mixture, which must contain sugar, butter, and milk, must be properly prepared and cooled in order to create sugar crystals that are just the right size. If the process is not carried out correctly, the crystals will either form too early and become too large or never form at all, resulting in a candy similar to caramel.
The history of fudge may predate the foundation of the U.S., and experts are quick to point out the similarities between fudge and tablet, a Scottish confection. Tablet is first mentioned in The Household Book of Lady Grisell Baillie, which was written between 1692 and 1733 CE. The process of creating tablet starts the same way as fudge — by boiling sugar, milk, and butter until they reach the soft-ball stage at 235 to 240 degrees F (113 to 116 degrees C), at which point the mixture is removed from heat and allowed to cool. Crystallization occurs in tablet, but large crystals form, giving the candy a grainy and brittle texture that is quite dissimilar from the soft, smooth texture of fudge.
Emelyn Battersby Hartridge documents the first sale of fudge, writing a letter in 1886 stating that a schoolmate's cousin had sold fudge for 40 cents per pound in Baltimore. In 1888, Ms. Hartridge, still attending Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, wrote that she made as much as 30 pounds of fudge for the Senior auction. Fudge caught on quickly at Vassar and, before long, recipes for the confection began popping up at other women's colleges. Smith and Wellesley colleges adapted the so-called original recipe into their own versions.
Vassar's recipe called for white sugar, cream, unsweetened chocolate, and butter. The Wellesley College creation altered the original recipe only slightly by adding marshmallows, which keeps the fudge from collapsing during cooling. The Smith College recipe was the first to deviate from the original, adding extra butter along with brown and white sugar, molasses, and vanilla. Each of these recipes is notoriously delicate. The history of fudge was forever changed when corn syrup, which delays crystal formation, was first used for fool-proof recipes.