By John F. Murdick
Many folks have wondered aloud what sets our fudge apart from all others. Why is Murdick’s fudge famous? There are many reasons why, but I will try to give you some idea of the magnitude of love that our fudge conjures up while I reminisce back to my childhood; standing in my grandfather’s shop, with the sweet smells of chocolate and caramel wafting through the old candy kitchen.
I watched as my grandfather stirred the kettle with the long wooden paddle, listening to the sound of the overhead exhaust fan that would suck up the hot, sweet-smelling air and send it out to the street. People were cupping their hands and peering in the front window, and I remember being so proud of my heritage, of what we have made for generation after generation.
I looked around as my grandfather shut off the flame from the gas stove with a click. He leaned over to make sure the thermometer was eye level. “Yep, that’ll do it!” He put the hot pads onto the kettle handles and got ready to lift the heavy copper kettle filled with boiling, hot fudge onto the kettle stand. With a quick heave and a clunk, it was done. He checked the thermometer again, just to make sure the temperature was not going up too quickly, then he stirred it with the paddle and wiped the paddle on the edge of the kettle. He always lifted the thermometer gently, so as not to break it, and set the end of it nimbly onto the paddle to transfer it to the sink without dripping any of the luscious chocolate onto the wooden floor.
The folks who had been watching at the front window, had decided to follow their noses into the store, just in time to see my grandfather and my dad getting ready to pour the still molten fudge onto the cool marble slab. My dad quickly came over when he saw my grandpa back at the kettle. They each grabbed a handle and with the expertise that comes from years of practice, poured the hot chocolate fudge onto the marble, being careful to pour it slowly so as not to splash it or have it overflow the slab irons which held the fudge in place until it was cooled enough to begin working it. Then my grandpa would hold the kettle with one hand and scrape out the fudge using a long, flexible stainless steel spatula that bent as easily as a green limb on a tree. They would then set the kettle back onto the kettle stand and roll it back to be washed out and await the next batch to be weighed up.
I watched as a cute, red-headed, freckle-faced girl climbed on the fence to rest her chin on the top of it so she could take in all the sights and sounds in the candy kitchen. I watched her green eyes scan the shelves of all the flavors of fudge; and look with awe at the giant tools hung on the beadboard walls which included: long-handled “creamer blades,” long bladed fudge knives, and scrapers all shiny and clean. She listened to the squeaking and creaking of the wooden floor as my dad walked around one of the marble slabs working the fudge with one of the long-handled creamer blades, turning the fudge over and over to work it to a set. The fudge glistened and the light from the window reflected on the chocolate making it look like a chocolate waterfall every time he turned it over. The little girl’s mother asked, “Why do you do that?” and “How long do you have to do that?” As my dad explained the whys and how longs, I noticed the girl was licking her lips. I walked over to the slab, where my uncle was cutting a loaf of fudge into slices, and cut a small piece of heaven from the delightfully warm chocolate fudge and placed it in a bakery tissue. I handed it to the mother, and watched a smile light up her face. She thanked me profusely while offering pieces of the warm fudge to the little girl and her daddy. The smiles and squeals of contentment warmed my heart! The little girl wanted to learn more. She kept asking what this was for and what that was for.
What a great place for a child to learn about cooking and working in a kitchen! I should know, because here is where I was taught the art of making fudge and candies that may someday be a thing of the past. Working in a kitchen, making candy, has to be the warmest, homiest place to work in all the world. The smells, the tastes, and the sights of people working together to create something that few folks know how to do, all contribute to the overall feeling of love and well-being. It is a feeling that I still cherish and I know my dad cherished and his dad before him cherished. It is something that is rarely replicated in this modern world. And I think that is why people love to watch us make our famous fudge. It is in its essence – mesmerizing. And it is an art.
More and more people are turning to factory-made chocolates and candies, made on conveyor belts, and packed by machines –that we have always made from scratch. The many candies that my dad and grandpa taught me to make, many young people have never heard of… divinity and penuche, pralines, salt-water taffy. Hand-pulled salt-water taffy is such a labor of love (as my father always said). It takes a while to pull the air into it –we use a hook that fits into a slot on the wall). Then when it is fluffy and light, my father would roll it out until it is like a long snake. Then he would cut little “pillows” of taffy for us to wrap. Each lucious piece would then be then hand wrapped. We call this wrapping part, a “kiss party.” And it was the most fun when all the employees get to sit down around the taffy slab for a half hour of fun and talk about all the things that were important in life, like who was going to what school in the fall, or who was going to which beach after work. It was a bonding time for us, and it was a love fest in the same way that sitting down to dinner is at home with your family.
As I look back on the happiest times of my life, I have to say that my time in the fudge kitchen, working with my dad, my grandfather, and all the great folks I’ve worked with…were some of the best years ever. It was a family affair and it still is. Now, when I am working with my son, and sometimes wrapping taffy with his daughter (my granddaughter), I cherish these moments when we are together, and I hope that in the future that these are the times that they cherish as I have.
I’m happy to have shared with you some of my thoughts and memories of making candy, and why I think it is important to not only put all of yourself into your work, but also include the love that we put into our candy!