The Best Peanut Butter Fudge in the Whole ‘Verse
My son, Kippy, not quite 4, snuggled up to my very pregnant self and sighed. His sigh lasted forever, it seemed. “What’s wrong, Lovey?” I asked as I hugged his sturdy little body.
“It’s my birthday in two days. I know I can’t have a party this year since you have the baby kicking about. So I guess I can’t take a treat to school for my birthday.” I tipped his elfin face up and smiled.
I leaned down and whispered, “How would you like to take something…such a special treat that all the children will talk of it for ages?”
His eyes grew wide with wonder, reminding me of my brother Dusty’s stare on that long ago day when my world slipped back onto its axis.
I leveraged my bulk up from the chair, and took Kippy’s hand.
“Let’s check this out with Grammy,” I suggested.
“Kippy needs a special treat to take to his class to celebrate his birthday,” I informed my mother. I wondered as she hugged Kippy and whispered to him Do all women at some time or other wear a Mona Lisa smile. Mom certainly showed one that day in my warm, fragrant tiny English kitchen.
“Can you gather ingredients for me?”
“Absolutely. Kippy can get to the ones too low for me,” I assured her.
She clearly worried about me. The baby’s due date, December 28th loomed only two weeks away. I had gestational diabetes. I had followed the diet and exercise prescriptions the obstetrician had set out. I’d actually lost eleven pounds, but I looked as if I would give birth to the biggest beach ball in the world. My stomach stuck out so far, I could not bend over very well at all.
It meant the world that Mom had come to help me. She helped keep the house under control since even washing clothes in the tiny washer and dryer had become an issue. We had to laugh, though. Mom’s clean freak reputation had caused many problems through my teen years. Every time I used the loo, my clogs had disappeared. I go and find them, put them in front of our pink porcelain goddess as Bill Cosby phrased it. Do what I needed to do, then the next time, even if it was only ten minutes later, as was often the case, the clogs had once again disappeared.
Finally, I asked Mom, “Do you keep moving my clogs out of the bathroom?”
“Yes! I live in fear that you will trip over them,” she answered. I saw her sincere concern for me.
I laughed and explained, “Mom, have you noticed that the toilet is higher than the one in the States?”
“Yes, but I like that.”
“Well, I’m having trouble getting comfortable, so I keep the clogs there so I can rest my feet on them. My legs keep going to sleep if I have to sit for any length of time, so that extra couple of inches helps,” I laughed as I told her.
The bright Nichols twinkle lit her eyes reminding me of Aunt Thelma, the aunt I’d spent several months with as a nanny to her twin girls. Mom’s laugh made me giggle harder, “Sorry. Sorry. Do you need a step stool?”
We both broke up, an activity that sent me right back to the room under discussion. The baby had a sense of humor, too, as Agatha (as his nearly four-year-old Kippy had named The Bump)got busy doing a cheer, since one fist hit my ribs, a foot kicked out, and the head bounced off my bladder.
Then we got back to serious business. Mom bustled about assembling a heavy sauce pan, measuring cups and spoons, baking sheets only two inches deep, and somehow, she’d either found or created three aprons.
“I have perfected my peanut butter fudge recipe. I can do nothing to make it better. So I will measure: you write down since I have it memorized. I’ve never tried to teach anyone else how to make it. I’ll stir: you will note the color of each stage of the process and how much longer you should let things simmer. You will sing Christmas songs for me!” Her hair might have glowed silvery white, but her eyes held the expression of an elated elf. Well, I reasoned, ‘Tis the Season I guess!
“Before we get started, I must tell you, Kippy, that you have the most important job.” Mom sounded dead serious.
My son’s expressive, intelligent eyes, so desirous of sharing magic flicked between Mom and me. I nodded assurance. “He’s up to the challenge.”
“Grammy,” he asked, “what will I have to do?”
“You will taste a bit of the fudge at each stage of the process. Your judgment will determine our next step.” She noticed his hesitation, and assured him, “Your mother is a world-class taster. I’m certain you have her same gifts.”
After that load of horse apples, my über masculine child donned an apron, and took up his position.
I checked the gathered elements:
2 cups white sugar √
2 cups brown sugar √
2/3 cups evaporated milk √
1 teaspoon Vanilla extract √
Skippy peanut butter, smooth √
1stick Salted butter √
½ cup karo syrup√
SECRET INGREDIENT √
I placed a candy thermometer next to Mom’s utensils, and setup my electric mixer. She gave me a “mom look” which said in the lingo veterans of bowling alleys “I don’t need no stinkin’ mixer or thermometer!”
I returned her gaze with the “I’m no longer 14 and can make decisions in my own home” look. Mom may have been able to beat the hot sugared liquid into its solidifying stage, but I could not! I didn’t realize at this moment that Mom and I shared some of the same remarkable fortitude. My baby, the miniature field goal kicker within, did not simply draw all his needs from me. He gave me that extra bit of courage to help me stand against Mom and say. “No. I cannot beat the mixture as you do. See the belly, here? I’ll use the mixer.”
I could not beat the mixture: physically, I could do nothing that strenuous. I needed the candy thermometer because it actually denoted, “Soft boil stage”; “hard-boil stage”; “the candy is burned stage.” (I made the last one up). Instead of having these messy little bowls of cold water in which the candy maker lets drops of the concoction fall periodically, I relied on my thermometer. Mom still depended on her use of the texture of the sample drops. She had to make several “syrup drop” tests. I elected to do a civilized combo-punch: when the thermometer hit the “soft boil stage”, I then did a drop test.
Kippy watched this silent show down with interest. Is he taking notes so he can turn me inside out when we argue in the future? I wondered. He tired quickly of my mother’s and my emotional tug-of-war, though, and took it into his own hands. Literally. He dumped both sugars into the pan, and stirred them vigorously. He knew not to turn the burners on, but the mess he made united Mom and me in delivering an important one-two punch that saved much of the sugar, and we acknowledged our silliness. Thank God for an insightful child!
The three of us commenced on the journey to create the perfect fudge. We created the fantastic, fabulous sugar high of all times. Kippy was with us at each moment of need or uncertainty.
“Go, go, Mama! Go, go Grammy!” he chanted.
I sang the loudest silliest Christmas songs I knew, like “Grandma Got Ran over by a Reindeer,” just to make Mom laugh. Mom’s alto fit snuggly with my mezzo soprano. I do believe that batch of fudge tasted better than any before, filled as it was with intangibles such as laughter, bickering, shaping up and adaptation.
Did Kippy’s class like this American treat? Do British men of a certain class have “their” pub?
Kippy and I fixed fudge together for years. We fixed a batch when he got into a special art show and when the baseball team’s season finally finished. We stirred up the old pot when I got a raise. We stirred fudge into obedience when my lumpectomy’s results came back negative.
Making fudge once a month became a habit. I carefully cut the cooling candy into squares, put the lot in a food carrier, making certain that two squares, cut a bit larger than the rest of my offerings sit apart from all the rest, just as Mom had done for me when I took my fudge to school as a kid. Then I drive to the college where I teach. I leave the container with fellow teachers who promise I will be able to pick up the container when I leave.
In my imagination, I go to Room 165 in the Woodsfield Rest and Rehabilitation Center. I see Mom watching yet another re-run of The Andy Griffith Show.
At least she’s awake.
“Hey Mom!” I feel as if I’m a loud, obnoxious woman. I’m not. Mom’s deafness concerns me. She turns to me, and smiles her gorgeous smile with those dimples that made my dad notice her nearly seventy years ago.
“Honey! It’s so good to see you!” She leans up and hugs me. “What’s that in your hand?”
“I brought you a little snack.”
She lights up and giggles, “Peanut Butter Fudge! It’s my birthday!” She takes a bite and savors the rich butter saturated sugar, mixed with just enough peanut butter, when she finishes her bite, she has a sneaky grin. “My fudge is the best. But don’t tell whoever made this I said so.”
“I won’t. This is between you and me.”
Then her face lights up, “Sweetheart! How good to see you! What have you got there? Fudge! Oh, it’s my birthday and I forgot!”
“Happy birthday, Mom,” I say as I hug her, sit with her a bit.
I’m ready for her next round of, “Oh, hi, sweetheart! Is that peanut butter fudge? It must be my birthday.”
A part of me wishes she could remember the last five minutes. A part of me wishes her memory worked better. But, I tell myself, having a birthday whenever she sees peanut butter fudge (rest assured that no matter what she thinks, it is just as tasty as her own) is a gift. She gave it to me and now I give it back.
To make the fudge saga complete, I have to include my father’s “non-contribution.” Mom had bought a gigantic jar of Skippy peanut butter from Sam’s Club when they had visited us. Mom knew she had enough peanut butter to make many, many batches of her incredible creation. One day she decided to make fudge, for whatever reason.
She experienced the odd sensation not unlike stepping on a step that isn’t there. It’s a jolt. As she prepared to heft the large, heavy jar, she nearly lost her balance as the jar flew across the kitchen, a nearly empty jar she discovered. The sides of the jar had a coating of the peanut butter so it looked full. She had no idea that Dad had sneaked spoonfuls of the treat for months. To make sure he didn’t get caught not watching his cholesterol, he had carefully smeared the jar’s betraying evidence to conceal his peanut butter predations.
I wasn’t there when the discovery happened, but when he told me his side of the story, his inner imp, never far from the surface, gleamed in his eyes. “You should have heard your mother! I thought she was going to ban me from eating the fudge!”
I laughed so hard, it hurt. Mom came into the kitchen and said with disgust, “He’s bragging about stealing my peanut butter again, ain’t he?”
“But Mom,” I said, “Surely you expected it! He tells about getting the loaf of bread for Aunt Deenie and taking home a hollow crust because he’d pulled the soft innards out.”
She sighed and looked him with exasperation and love. “I should have. I did. That’s why I had a hidden jar. Let’s make some fudge!”
“There’s no occasion,” I said.
“Oh, I reckon it’s someone’s birthday somewhere.”
I got out the pan and wooden spoon and grinned, “Where’s the secret ingredient?”