- Peanut Butter Fudge
(makes 36 pieces)
4 cups sugar
2 Tablespoons corn syrup
1 1/3 cups milk
1/2 cup + 2 Tablespoons smooth peanut butter (Jif/Skippy type, not natural)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup coarsely chopped peanuts (we usually left this out)
In a saucepan, combine sugar, corn syrup, and milk. Stir together well. Cover pan and bring to a boil slowly. Remove cover and cook mixture until a small amount dropped into cold water forms a soft ball (or do it the easy way and get a candy thermometer, and cook to 236 degrees F). Remove from heat; add peanut butter and vanilla, but do not stir. Cool to lukewarm. Add peanuts (or don’t, we never did), and beat until creamy (Wow, I like that phrase) and thick. Pour out onto a buttered pan. When cool, cut into squares.
This is a slightly modified version of a recipe from the Sunset Cookbook of Favorite Recipes by Emily Chase, published in 1949.
I don’t know when my mother got this cookbook, nor do I know when she first made the World’s Best Peanut Butter Fudge. But I know this was a holiday fixture in my house throughout my childhood.
I still, once in a while, buy a lump of peanut butter fudge in a candy shop. Every time, every single time, I’ve been disappointed. It’s never as good as mom’s. It’s never even close.
Christmas memories for me always include the smell of this fudge cooking. Mom made it other times of the year, but at some point she decided, since everyone liked it, everyone raved over it, she should make it to give for christmas.
I can see the pan. A beat-up, pock-marked old aluminum pan, heavy. The lid made a wonderful ringing sound when you whacked it against something. It was our biggest pan, the one we used for soup and pasta and everything
I can see my mother struggling with the test described above, dropping blobs of batter into cold wanter in a measuring cup to see if it formed a ball; I can see her beating the fudge by hand with a big spoon. I don’t know why she never got a candy thermometer, why she never used an electric mixer; economy, laziness, some desire to do it the old-fashioned way. I don’t know.
We used to root for a failed batch. If you don’t do it right, fudge doesn’t quite set; we got to eat those batches, and there were always a few. The first one, usually, though as she made more and more, there got to be fewer failures.
I can see the flat red and green boxes she used to pack the fudge in to give as gifts. Metallic, small boxes, ribbon-tied, then (for friends far away), packed in tissue paper and put in a plain cardboard box for mailing.
I can almost feel the slight sugar grittiness between my teeth that those failed batches had.
Each year, she’d make a little more. People would try a piece and ask for some, or friends would ask for extra, since it was always gone too soon. It became a tradition, and soon we were getting calls, asking when the fudge was going out.
My aunt (My pseudo-aunt, Aunt Penny, whom I’ve written about before) was one of the worst offenders. She’d start calling and wheedling, asking for more, asking for the first batch. We later learned that she did this so she’d know when we shipped the fudge. She’d haunt the mailbox, waiting for the package to show up, and she’d hide it so her family (two daughters, and whatever man she was married to or living with at that time) could not find it. She’d hoard it and eat all, or most if it, by herself. Today, I told one of her daughters this, and she was outraged. This fudge brought out the worst in people.
It started to be a chore, after a while. Mom used to like making it; it made everyone happy, it smelled good, it was part of our holiday tradition. But it reached a point, one day, when it was just work. She’d spend hours making this damned fudge, assembly-line, cup after cup of sugar, jar after jar of peanut butter.
And then one year, she stopped. I think the first batch failed, as it so often does, and she looked at it, threw the pan, and walked away.
That was it. No more of the World’s Best Peanut Butter Fudge. None for christmas. None for friends. None for family. No more. Ever.
She tried one last time, it must be a couple of decades ago now. We begged and wheedled and she agreed. And of course, the first batch failed and there was no second batch.
We’re waiting still, and we know it won’t come.
Mom gave me the cookbook last year, symbolically handing over The Fudge to me. But I’ve not been able to bring myself to try it yet. Only an email from pseudo-cousin Amy today prompted me to get out the old book with my mother’s hand-written modifications and type it up. Amy and her sister want to make The Fudge for christmas.
So here’s the recipe, ladies. Make it. I’m not going to beg you to send me some, not going to hide it and hoard it. But make it, and tell me if it’s as good as we remember. I’ve never made it, I think I may be afraid to go back.
But you know, I have some time this holiday. Maybe, if I continue to suffer from the writer’s block that’s stalled me out on the Wanton sequel, instead, I’ll make The Fudge, and see if it really is the World’s Best Peanut Butter Fudge.