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What Is the History of Fudge?

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  • Last Modified Date: 20 September 2014
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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.

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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.

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clintflint
Post 3

@irontoenail - We are only talking about the recorded history of fudge anyway. There may have been cooks who called it something else or prepared it slightly differently to suit the ingredients they had on hand who just never wrote it down.

I doubt that was the first time anyone ever ruined a batch of caramel, for example. Although I do wonder whether the swearing of "fudge" predated the name of the candy.

irontoenail
Post 2

@pleonasm - You've got to remember that sugar in the form that we use it is only a recent development itself. Ancient cultures would not have had processed sugar like that, from sugar cane. They would have used honey or possibly something like tree sap or some other alternative to sweeten their foods.

Chocolate is also a fairly recent invention, particularly for the general public. We only get to eat these things, and experiment with them in cooking because of a lot of trade and industrial processes going on behind the scenes.

pleonasm
Post 1

I actually had no idea that fudge was a recent invention. I always assumed it was the type of candy that was eaten by the Egyptians or at least by people in the Victorian era. I can remember making it when I was a kid. It's fairly easy as long as you follow the recipe exactly. I'm surprised that no one figured it out before then.

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