Ten thousand pounds! That’s how much world-famous Mackinac Island fudge gets handcrafted daily during peak tourism season. Five tons of fudge every day!
As we celebrate National Fudge Day on June 16, it begs the question: How did little ole Mackinac Island become such a huge producer of the sweet treat?
The history goes back more than 100 years and features hard-working entrepreneurs whose creativity and showmanship turned the island’s fledgling candy industry into a multi-million-dollar global phenomenon, according to Phil Porter, author of “Fudge: Mackinac’s Sweet Souvenir.” Here are some highlights:
- As Mackinac evolved from a center of fur trade into a summer resort destination, Victorian-era vacationers began to identify the island with sweets. At first, the most common candy was maple sugar harvested by Native Americans. Other treats, including fudge, soon followed. “The idea of enjoying sweets while on vacation was rapidly becoming part of the Mackinac Island tourist experience,” Porter writes.
- In the 1880s the Murdick family came to Mackinac and opened the island’s first real candy store. Not only did the store sell candy, but it gave visitors a chance to see the sweets made right in front of them. Rome Murdick was the first person on Mackinac to make fudge on marble slabs, which gave the product a unique flavor and created a show for customers. He realized that the process of making fudge was just as important as the fudge itself.
- Fudge-making became a public event where Murdick and emerging competitors demonstrated their craft, mixing ingredients in a kettle and using wooden paddles to stir them. After heating the mix to about 230 degrees, they poured it onto a marble slab and worked the liquid into solid fudge as it cooled and hardened. “Here the theatrically-inclined fudge man could really put on a show,” Porter writes. “He allowed the gooey mass to nearly ooze off the side of the slab. Mesmerized visitors gasped in delight as he swept along the edge with his long-handled trowel and folded the mouth-watering candy back into the center of the table.”
- Mackinac Island Fudge had ups and downs during the first half of the 20th century, amid two world wars and the Great Depression. Faced with sugar rations and declining tourism, some of the island’s fudge shops closed. To drum up business, Rome Murdick and his son, Gould, used the kitchen-cooling fans to blow the scent of fudge into the street. “Gould even went so far as to pour vanilla flavoring into a bubbling cauldron of candy,” Porter writes. “The vanilla instantly dissolved, adding no flavor to the fudge but creating a sweet-smelling aroma that wafted into the street to lure unsuspecting passers-by.”
- After World War II, the country’s economy took off and the expanding interstate highway system made it easier than ever for people to visit Mackinac. Fudge shops proliferated, and by the 1960s the island’s visitors were known as “fudgies.” Shops experimented with new flavors of fudge and worked to make Mackinac synonymous with the treat. “Fudge was not invented at Mackinac, but it was here that a particular style of fudge gained great popularity that spread across the nation,” Porter writes.
Today, there are 13 fudge shops on Mackinac, and they’re making so much fudge that the island imports 10 tons of sugar per week! Sampling fudge remains one of the favorite activities of Mackinac visitors, with chocolate being the most popular (although when President Gerald R. Ford visited in 1975 he opted for vanilla pecan.)
Whether you visit on National Fudge Day or any other day – or maybe during the Mackinac Island Fudge Festival Aug. 24-26 – come find your favorite flavor and experience the fudge capital of the world.