Tucked away in the back of a kitchen cabinet sits a longtime connection to my past; In particular, to my grandmother. it holds no value to anyone but myself. Yet to me it is a true treasure, an heirloom, a priceless gift from my Nana. It has been a presence in my life as long as I can remember. This gift from my nana that means so very much to me is a lowly nondescript saucepan.
My Nana was a proficient cook, well-known among our circle of family and friends for many of her dishes including her chow chow and homemade white bread. But Nana was, first and foremost, famous for her fudge. Sweet, creamy, and addicting, Nana’s fudge was requested far and wide for birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, and to give as thank you gifts. Always made for holidays and other special occasions, which included visits from out of town relatives, Nana’s fudge often went home with them meaning the fudge found its way across the country winding up in California, Florida, and even Alaska over the years.
As a child, nothing excited me more than to see my grandmother pull that saucepan from the cabinet and place it on the stove top. As the pan was never used for anything else, I knew that there was a batch of fudge on the horizon. If Nana had sold her fudge, she would have been a rich woman, having made so many batches of it throughout her life. Nana never used a candy thermometer or even tested by cold water, she was so proficient at watching the bubbles of each variety as it cooked, she knew exactly when the fudge was ready to remove from the heat .
My job was to butter and prepare the trays that would receive the fudge — and to “clean the pan”. This translated to waiting patiently, spoon in hand, to scrape away and devour the bit of fudge that remained around the sides of the pan after my grandmother poured it into the trays to set. It was always perfect; smooth, creamy, and deliciously sweet. There must be something magical about that fudge pan, I convinced myself. Only after I grew into young adulthood, did I realize that it was not the pan but my Nana’s prowess and talent in making her fudge that resulted in perfect batches time after time.
After Nana passed away, the fudge pan sat forgotten, relegated to a box of unused cookware stored in the back of a closet in the kitchen. My Mom, for all the other things she cooked — and cooked well — had no interest in making fudge. One dreary winter day many years after we lost my nana and several after losing Mom, I was going through the kitchen closet doing some general house cleaning. Sitting on the floor, I leaned forward, stretched out my arm into the dark recess under a shelf and felt my fingertips brush a metal object. I grasped it, pulled it into my sight, and found my self dstaring at Nana’s “magical fudge pan”.
I held it in my hands, feeling its weight and gazing at the satin brushed finish . Its handle was black plastic and scratched but intact. The pan showed its many years of service, but had no dents and was otherwise in decent shape. It looked the same now as it always had as far back as my memories would take me.
The world around me disappeared, and I was back in the kitchen with my nana, standing next to her watching her measure cocoa and evaporated milk and butter. She did not use conventional measuring cups or measuring spoons but instead used an old coffee mug and the teaspoon and tablespoon from the everyday flatware set. I heard the clatter of cookware and saw my nana, dressed in a cotton dress covered by a cotton apron, wearing penny loafers and ankle socks. The enticing aroma that emanated from the pot on the stove wafted through my nostrils in my memories as if I was standing by her side.
It was then that I realized that run-of-the-mill sauce pan I held in my hands was not magical as I believed as a child; the magic came from the love and care that Nana put into every batch of fudge she made, no matter what the occasion or who the recipient was. I smiled and whispered, “I miss you so much, Nana” as I placed the pot back in the spot where I had found it. Life was busy and hectic and there was a new man in my life who had just asked me to marry him. Wedding plans took priority and Nana’s fudge and the fudge pan were forgotten for the time being.
A couple years later as my husband and I prepared to leave my beloved Coal Region homestead in search of adventures in New Hampshire and the promise of a new career track for James, we started to pack in earnest for the move. James picked up a box in the kitchen closet, looked inside and said, “This is just a bunch of pots and pans and kitchen items that look really old. Let’s leave these here and just replace anything you need later.” Distracted by my own sorting and packing endeavors (how does one accumulate such large stores of “stuff”?) I agreed and thought little more about it.
Later that evening, bone tired as I lay in bed, I was just drifting off to sleep when my eyes flew open and I sat upright, panic setting in. James’ words echoed in my head. “Just a bunch of pots and pans…leave them here…” Nana’s fudge pan! I had forgotten all about it. The boxes from that days packing were scheduled to go to the thrift shop later that morning. That old saucepan held a piece of my heart. I couldn’t part with it, I couldn’t lose it, I had to find it before it was too late.
Down the staircase I flew, dressed in bathrobe and bunny slippers. Flashlight in hand, I scurried to the end of the driveway where the donations for the thrift shop sat boxed and ready to go. As I dug into the first box there was no sign of the pan. Second box, same result..and the third…and the fourth. But when I open the fifth box, Nana’s fudge pan sat right at the top of the stack of things inside.
At 2 a.m. in a rural town it’s probably safe to assume not many people — but probably someone — noticed the crazy lady doing a happy dance at the end of her driveway amidst previously neatly stacked boxes now strewn about. (I found out later that James, bless his heart, slept through it all.) I breathed a sigh of relief, held Nana’s fudge pan in my hands, turned, and trudged through the dew kissed grass. Climbing the stairs to the back porch. I sank down on to the old aluminum glider that had been a fixture there forever. The triumph and relief I felt in recovering Nana’s fudge pan were quickly being replaced by tears welling up in my eyes.
As I clutched that simple old saucepan in my arms, I realized that the words “They’re just things and things can be replaced” often offered up to victims of fires or floods or other tragedies as consolation fails miserably at describing the importance of mementos in our lives. “Things” are memories — of people, of precious moments that are short and fleeting in our lives. We need these “things”. We need to be able to hold them close when they are all of someone we have left to hold.
A few weeks later, Nana’s fudge pan took up residence at our new home in New Hampshire. Nearly two decades later, the fudge pan moved back “home” with us to Pennsylvania. This time without asking, James bubble-wrapped it, placed it in a box by itself, and in bold black marker wrote “kitchen” in the corner and across the middle of the box, “Nana’s Fudge Pan – HANDLE WITH CARE”.
I’ve made countless batches of fudge in that pan over the years and will continue to do so as long as I am able. I realized a long time ago that fudge pan actually is magical, for it brings my grandmother back to me every time I see it, touch it, or use it.
I miss you Nana. I’ll see you again someday. And we’ll make fudge together again.
Throughout the years of making fudge, I found my niche in the candy world. This pumpkin fudge recipe is one of my most requested and one of my most popular offerings at holidays, potlucks, and special occasions. I’ve been requested through the years to make many pounds of it which, like Nana’s, has been given as gifts far and wide.
I had never had pumpkin fudge until I purchase some at a fair in New Hampshire one autumn. It was delicious and it was torture waiting for the year to pass to buy some from the vendor again. Sadly, they did not attend the fair that year nor could I find them anytime after. Unable to remember their name, I bought samples of every pumpkin fudge I would come across whether at fairs or in shops across the New England area, but none tasted like the first.
The frugal Dutchie in me bristled at the retail cost per pound of fudge. “This is ridiculous”, I thought. I’ve been making fudge for decades — I will make my own pumpkin fudge. Through trial and error I’ve tweaked this recipe and actually prefer my version to the first pumpkin fudge I ever had. Nana had a collection of fudge recipes, but I know that a pumpkin fudge never entered her mind. I think she would enjoy it. Of course, every batch I ever made was cooked in Nana’s fudge pan.
For someone not well experienced in candy making, I highly recommend using a candy thermometer when making this fudge. It is very important that the mixture reach 234 degrees Fahrenheit in order to set properly.
The recipe calls for a 7 ounce jar of marshmallow creme. I scrape the marshmallow from the jar onto a plate before starting to cook the syrup mixture. When the time comes for the marshmallow cream to be added to the hot mixture, it is much easier to scrape it from a plate using a silicone spatula than from the jar. I also measure out the vanilla chipds and butterscotch chips and set those aside in a small bowl to save time.
Pumpkin Pecan FudgeCourse: DessertCuisine: GeneralDifficulty: Intermediate
3 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cups (1 1/2 sticks) salted butter
2/3 cups evaporated milk (not sweetened condensed)
1/2 cup solid pack canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 cup butterscotch baking chips
1 cup white baking chips
1 (7-ounce) jar marshmallow creme
1 cup toasted roughly chopped pecans
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Line a 11 x 7 inch glass or metal baking pan with foil, extending the ends over the edges of the dish. Lightly butter the bottom and sides of the foil inside the dish. Set aside.
- Toast pecans in a dry frying pan over medium heat until golden and fragrant. Set aside to cool.
- Scrape out the marshmallow creme onto a plate (makes it quicker and easier to add to the fudge when needed). Measure out the butterscotch and white baking chips and place in a small bowl. Set aside.
- In a heavy saucepan, combine sugar, butter, milk, pumpkin and pumpkin pie spice. Bring to boil over medium-high heat stirring constantly until mixture reaches 234 degrees F. (approximately 15 to 20 minutes) Mixture MUST reach 234 degrees F (soft ball stage) in order to set up properly.
- Once the mixture reaches 234 degrees F, remove from heat; immediately stir in the butterscotch and white baking chips, the marshmallow creme, nuts and vanilla. Stir with a wooden spoon until completely blended and mixture starts to lose its shine. Immediately pour into prepared pan, smoothing with a knife or spatula into the corners of pan.
- Cool completely, lieft from pan using foil, then cut into squares as desired. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks. May also be frozen; wrap rightly in plastic wrap then aluminum foil. Thaw before serving.
- Walnuts may be used in place of pecans. Nuts may be omitted, if desired.