May's Famous Mackinac Island Vanilla Nut Fudge.
Off the coast of northern Michigan is a little circle of land sealed off from the modern world called Mackinac Island (that's pronounced "Mak-i-naw"). There are no cars on the island and you must travel there by ferry, but the ferry will take you to rows and rows of creamy fudge, the slices layed out in trays under sparkling glass for your personal consumption like all the little Madeline girls conscientiously lined up and waiting for little Madeline's appendix to be safely removed.
A few weekends ago, courtesy of my husband's friend, Lee May, I had a very exciting opportunity to help make fudge at a famous fudge shop, an opportunity I seized gratefully. The Island is known for its fudge, and Lee's family store, May's Famous Mackinac Fudge, has been in business on the island since the 1880s and continues to operate 3 shops, two of which are on the main street as you walk off the island. Plus, for those of us who are not able to make it to the Island often, May's has set up a mail order site here. I can just see all those happy tongues watching as packages of fresh fudge are opened from the mail. Mmm...
The fudge will delight you in a way that tricks you into thinking you have actually gone back in time, something that the movie, Somewhere in Time, with Christopher Reeves, which was filmed on the island, also attempts to do. With the horse-drawn carriages and absence of cars, it's not hard to be tricked.
So Mr. May gave me an apron and a little hat. The one thing no one bothered to tell me (apparently they just got some laughs out of it!) is that my hat was on the wrong way. I was supposed to turn it so that the name faced sideways, but I guess that is just something you learn along the way...)
And the fudge is made: (Thanks for the lessons, Mr. May.)
Fudge tables ready for hot fudge.
Mr. May and assistant pour hot fudge from a copper kettle onto the marble fudge table for Rocky Road fudge.
Vanilla Nut fudge cools inside metal pieces before it is stirred.
Fudge Master Lee May stirring the fudge.
Mr. May showing me how to stir the fudge properly. (He was an excellent teacher!)
After the fudge is stirred, Lee has a special method for shaping the sides, which he let me try.
Flavorings are added after some stirring and are mixed into the fudge. Here, marshmallows are added to chocolate fudge batter to make Rocky Road fudge. I'm famous as tourists look on!
Vanilla Nut fudge after Mr. May has shaped it. (Note the glistening sheen and the nice swirl.)
Lee finishes shaping the top of the fudge in a special swirl pattern, then lets it cool a bit and carefully instructs me in the slicing technique.
Slicing commences on my own. Unfortunately, I viciously ripped apart a slice of smooth fudge in this process...I guess practice makes perfect.
*The pictures on this post are courtesy of my husband, Steve Bartha, his mom, Margie Willson, and my mom, Karen Forzani. Thank you, photographers!
The other night we went to a new pizza place near my dad's house in CT, da Capo, my dad's house being my current and temporary home as my husband and I look for a place to live. My grandfather paid the bill and had some kind of conversation with the owner that resulted in three free desserts, a trick I really need to learn. The owner was touting the treat skills of his fine pastry chef who "worked at Le Cirque for seven years," and so I asked if I might learn under her for a while. I'm not quite sure he knew just what I was saying, but he did answer me in the affirmative.
One thick piece of cheesecake, 1 spongy block of tiramisu and 1 bloated canoli later (I can do this!), I wondered if this means I should just waltz in next time and remind him of his promise and see what the man is good for. The restaurant seemed to be doing pretty well, but in these hard times I wonder if smaller restaurants wouldn't want to earn an extra buck or two charging a helpless wannabe pastry chef for a night in the kitchen with the restaurant's finest. In the meantime, I might just look for some other fudge-like opportunities that will allow me to pretend, even if just for a little while, that I make pastry for a living, or fudge, or other sugar-based products that make our hearts beat and our heads spin in a near swoon. My food journalism jaunt (payed) will just have to wait for later. But until then, I guess I'll just fudge it.