There are many things unique to Mackinac Island. The absence of cars. The smell of horse poop, mingling with the aromas of fudge. The fudge itself. 

What’s up with fudge?

What I mean is, no one ever buys fudge or eats it unless it’s connected with a vacation, and Mackinac Island is one of the earliest and most venerable fudge destinations around. I did a lot of reading trying to understand why this is. I still don’t understand.First, let’s review what fudge is. Butter, sugar, and milk or cream is the basic recipe, with flavorings. So when you’re eating a block of fudge, you’re simply consuming a stick of butter on caloric steroids. 

Second, making the fudge. While not necessarily difficult, it is exacting. One must melt the sugar to the “soft ball” stage, somewhere between 235° and 240°. This is done to chemically eliminate the crystals of the sugar and render the concoction silky smooth. For those without a candy thermometer, or in the Little House on the Prairie days, this had to be done by the ice water test. Drop some of the boiling sugar into a bowl of ice water, and it should coalesce into a soft, pliable ball. (Cook it too long, and you’ve got caramel.) 

Once the sugar mixture is the right temperature, the butter is added and it is set aside to cool to around 110-130°, after which time comes the muscle: stirring for 15-20 minutes (or as they do on the island, working it on a marble slab) until the shiny texture is reduced to what Alton Brown calls a “matte”. From there it is cooled again until ready to serve. 

The above is by no means a fudge recipe. You can find all manner of them in cookbooks or the internet. I’m more interested in the fudge culture. It has been theorized that fudge shops flourish in vacation spots because tourists feel permission to indulge. When one is young, that means excess drinking, partying, and other wanton revelry. For the Mackinac Island demographic, that involves eating a food that is the chemical equivalent of sweetened Elmer’s Glue, and then plopping into the horse carriage for the ride back to the hotel.

If fudge you must, I will offer you a shortcut recipe that dispenses with all the messy chemistry. This one uses marshmallow fluff as a binder and some swear is equally delicious.
Never Fail Fudge
2 1/2 c. sugar
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 stick butter or margarine
1 5 oz. can evaporated milk (2/3 c.)
1 Jar (7 1/2oz) Marshmallow Fluff
3/4 tsp. vanilla
1 12-oz. package semi-sweet chocolate pieces
1 /2 c. chopped walnuts

Grease a 9-inch square baking pan; set aside. In large saucepan combine the first 5 ingredients. Stir over low heat until blended. Increase heat to medium and bring to a full-rolling boil being careful not to mistake escaping air bubbles for boiling. Boil slowly, stirring constantly for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in vanilla and chocolate until chocolate is melted. Add nuts. Turn into greased pan and cool. Makes 2 1/2 pounds.
Now don’t get me started on what “Marshmallow Fluff” actually is. That’s a topic for another column.
Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht & Roumel, PC, a firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment and civil right litigation. He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for “Current” magazine in Ann Arbor. Follow him at @nickroumel.