Friday, November 27, 2009

Taming the Peanut Butter Fudge

Our family's only true heirloom recipe is Grammy's Peanut Butter Fudge. It has been a holiday staple since Grammy was a child herself. She tells us she learned how to make it from her brothers who would make it often. She's not sure who they learned it from. Nevertheless, the holidays just wouldn't be worth celebrating without a big plate sitting on the counter for us to gorge ourselves on at will.

Knowing this, one might think this octogenarian (84 to be exact) would acquiesce to sharing her long guarded recipe to at least one trusted family member. Nope. Oh she pretends to share the recipe. She'll readily share a list of ingredients, but the amounts she gives are so vague, and the directions so twisted, that even the most revered chef would have difficulty producing an appetizing result.

Grammy's Fudge Recipe (and the dialog that ensues) verbatim:

2 parts sugar
1 part Pet milk
Skippy peanut butter
Hershey's Cocoa Powder if you want chocolate

"How much peanut butter?"

"Oh, I don't know. I just put a spoonful in there."

[*Scratching head*] "Spoonful?"

"Yeah, a spoonful."

"What size spoon?"

"The big one I use to make fudge."

See what I mean? LOL

I've since figured out that her "fudge spoon" is a serving spoon taken from her old stainless serving set. But that doesn't really mean anything as far as measurements go because she doesn't actually measure with it. She just uses it to dip big globs of peanut butter out of the jar.

One other little thing I picked up is she always fails to mention that you need to reconstitute the milk; so it's actually 1/2 part Pet milk + 1/2 part water. I don't know if that would actually make a difference in the way it turns out, but I know in her mind it does.

You see, Grammy genuinely prides herself on the fact that no one is able to duplicate her results. She brags each year that neither Aunt Peggy nor my mother could ever get their attempts to turn out right. I truly think she wants to take the recipe with her to the grave.

But then I came along... >:) *evil grin*

It's been about 20 years or so since I first asked her to show me how to make the fudge. At the time she almost seemed anxious, eagerly sharing her "secrets." For instance: you MUST use a heavy aluminum pot, you MUST use Pet milk, you MUST use Skippy peanut butter, and here's the key to her satisfaction... a candy thermometer is NOT accurate enough, only the cold water method will do.

Of course these are her own superstitions. Although the specific brands may affect taste, they most likely won't affect whether or not the fudge sets up properly. And most certainly a candy thermometer is way more accurate than the cold water method, and that is why it's the key to her satisfaction. How many people these days are familiar with the cold water method? That's why candy thermometers were invented after all; because of the uncertainty of other methods. But I was there to learn, so I tried to watch as she did her "thing."

I say tried because she kept doing things while my back was turned! She wouldn't let me measure anything. She would just show me quickly and dump it in the pan before I could assess how much of each ingredient she was actually using. And forget a re-do. Oh no no no. Once is enough. But I got one over on her.

After she had everything in the pot for chocolate fudge, she turned it over to me. I prepared the tray for the finished fudge. I buttered it, then added some nuts and marshmallows. I thought she was going to have a heart attack. "It won't work, you're going to ruin it," she insisted.

I ignored her as I stirred, and stirred, and stirred. Checked for soft ball stage, and then stirred some more. Finally I called it done. She must have told me 30 times that it wasn't going to set up. "Now it's going to take at least 10 or 15 tries until you get it to set up right." Oh boy was she LIVID when it set up perfect. I was elated! But it wasn't a true victory. I still didn't know the ingredients list.

I asked her a couple of years ago to show me again how to make it. "I'm measuring as we go and writing everything down this time," I said. She reluctantly agreed. But when I came home from work on the night she was supposed to show me, there it was sitting on the table... cooling... Grrr!

I guess she was still holding a grudge for my past success. But she wouldn't even show Cyndi when she asked to watch next time. Yeah, she most definitely wants to take that recipe to the grave! Why are people like that about recipes? I'm proud to share my favorite recipes! *sigh*

Now I, being a culinary school genius (not really, but I did take 2 years of Food Services in High School... that counts, right?), have decided to go on a quest. The quest for duplicating Grammy's fudge. She's given me more than enough clues over the years, and with my (slightly) better-than-average skills in the kitchen, I trust in myself that I can do this!

I've been meaning to do it for years. Take it upon myself to duplicate, measure, and record this recipe once and for all. I guess I was being lazy in hopes that she would finally give in and let me take the easy road to fudgy goodness. Oh well... here goes!

Sugar: check
Pet Milk: check
Peter Pan Peanut Butter -- I'm a rebel, what can I say!: check
Hershey's Cocoa -- Cyndi wants chocolate: check
Heavy Pot: Not aluminum, but oh well! check
My very own "fudge spoon": check

Wish me luck!


  1. oH I do wish you luck! such a good post. We loved chocolate gravy growing up and the only way I figured out the recipe was to stand right by Mom one day as she was making it. I said measure that and she did.
    I guess they did it so much -they didn't think about how much it took anymore just did it.
    good luck
    (when you perfect it could you share it?)

  2. Loved your post. My grandfather's second wife was a great cook. I got a few of her recipes. Just cards with ingredients - no amounts or directions. So I sympathize with you.

  3. Oh you will do it justice I am sure.

  4. My grandmother used to be the same way with her recipes until the notebook she kept them in came apart and she asked me to type (yes with the typewriter lol!) them up for her. I made copies for myself.

    I hope you succeed in your quest

  5. Hey there! I just stumbled on your blog tonight and I just want to tell you how much I've enjoyed reading and looking at patterns and recipes.
    I so can relate to your grandmother's explanation of just how much peanut butter. I was a college student and called my mammaw to get her to tell me how to make cornbread over the THAT was an experience!
    I look forward to reading and sharing more with you in the future!


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