It’s never the end of the world when you have fudge.
Especially this fudge. It’s magical.
I know, I know. You’re all like, wait, did she say magical? Back the bus up! But yes, I did say that this fudge is magical, and now I’ll explain why.
In 2002 I was living in Dunedin, New Zealand. It was quite a rocky point in my life; I had experienced deep personal losses that year, and the year before that, and I was in a difficult place with my travels. I was homesick, a little ill, and desperately strapped for cash.
To make ends meet I’d babysit, run errands, and clean houses, often for less than minimum wage. I lived in my car for a while that year, and queued at the Salvation Army for food. I became quite well known around the SA offices because of my cat, who was living rough with me at the time (I eventually gave her up for adoption and she went to a great and loving home; although it broke my heart to do that, it was the best thing I could have done for her), and often I’d be asked to help myself to whatever I wanted. One day there was half a jar of peanut butter going, which I quickly snapped up, as well as a bag of icing sugar, and some corn syrup. The SA lady watched my foraging with interest. “What are you going to do with all of that?” she enquired as I loaded my ‘purchases’ into my net bag.
“Fudge!” I responded with a grin.
She looked impressed. I should have told her that there was no need for her to look that impressed; this was an easy recipe that didn’t involve stirring and hours hunched over the stove, but I’m afraid I kept that a secret. I was enjoying feeling a little like myself again.
I had a rare weekend off that week and I knew what I wanted to do with it. One of my favourite places in Dunedin is the Tunnel Beach and I intended to visit it that weekend. I was going to take a blanket, a borrowed book, and a tin of my fudge, and enjoy myself. It was crisp cool weather, but it was the tail end of winter, and spring was looming. As long as it didn’t rain, I knew I’d be fine.
Back in my car I got my ingredients out and I made my fudge. I even managed to set it by throwing it into the SA fridge the next day, while I worked. (SA Dunedin, you are wonderful, and I still think of you with deep affection. Thank you.) At the end of that day I had fudge, and not just any fudge – I had peanut butter fudge. Besides that, I had a weekend off, which I was going to spend at the beach. I squeaked to myself in glee.
Things went perfectly. Even the weather behaved, and the bus showed up right on time. I trundled off to Tunnel Beach with a song in my heart. I’d been there once before, and on that occasion I’d had that entire beautiful amazing beach all to myself. I really hoped this would be the case again.
I arrived at Tunnel Beach, and set off down the walkway to it, taking in the immense beauty of the sandstone cliffs around me. I arrived at the top of the tunnel almost an hour later and set off down the steps, almost skipping down the last few steps to the beach. I was thrilled to find that there was nobody else there – I – WAS – ALONE – and – wait – I shaded my eyes and looked down the beach. It was occupied. I remember scowling; I chuckle now at my temerity – I mean, a public beach, that anybody could visit, and there I was acting like it was all mine.
I turned my back to the couple (for a couple it was) and settled down on my blanket with my book and my tin of fudge. I had a bottle of water and some stale sandwiches to snack on, if I wanted to, but I intended to just read and comfort eat in one of the most beautiful places in the world that day. I felt that I had earned my escape – and I had.
I had barely read a few pages before I was disturbed by a voice. I felt irritated. I turned around to see what he wanted. He was holding out a flute glass to me and had a big grin on his face.
“She said yes!” he yelled.
“What?” I asked, taking the glass from him in bewilderment.
“She said yes!” He laughed. “Have a drink with us! We want to celebrate!”
I don’t care, I wanted to tell him. Do you know what I’ve lost lately, I wanted to ask. A relationship that had been my life, a future I had dreamed of, my beloved cat. I wanted to give his glass back to him and turn my back on him, and on her, standing further off, looking at us with a grin on her face. I don’t care about your happiness, I wanted to say.
But I didn’t. I put my book away and stood up, feeling odd and out of place. I had interrupted _them_. I’d arrived at the beach just as he’d obviously popped the question, in a secret place, in one of the most romantic locations in the world, and they weren’t annoyed. They wanted me to share the moment with them.
We introduced ourselves to each other. They were Americans, they informed me, and travelling in New Zealand for a year. They’d saved up for it for years, they told me. I told them a little of my gypsy roaming ways, which they both thought was just ‘wunnerful’. They were sweet and friendly – and they had champagne.
I’d forgotten what champagne tasted like. I stuck my nose in the bubbles and closed my eyes, remembering times when it wasn’t this bad. Lights, a beautiful dress, my mother’s diamond bracelet on my wrist, a kiss on a balcony in a hotel in Paris. I opened my eyes.
“To you”, they said politely. I laughed and shook my head.
“No! To you! To you both – to happiness – to forever – to you.” I meant every word of it.
We drank, and he refilled all our glasses, and we drank again. They invited me to share their picnic, and when I hesitated, they insisted I join them as they had ‘too much food’. I didn’t believe them at first, and then I saw their hamper. They really did have too much food! He went to get my things so that we could keep an eye on it all (and on the tide) and she confessed to me, while he was gone, that she’d been waiting for him to ask her for eight years. “And I’m an old fashioned Southern gal”, she drawled. “I wasn’t gonna ask him, was I?” I shook my head and we both laughed.
I shared my fudge with them, and they fell in love with it. I thought they were just being kind, and then I realised they weren’t. She even badgered me for the recipe.
“I’ll give it to you for a wedding present”, I joked.
It was an odd picnic, and we were an odd threesome. They were newly engaged and should have only had eyes for each other, but their generous kindness had drawn me in, a sad overworked stranger, into their lives. I felt the bitter knot in my soul melting away as we sat and laughed, and at the end of that day I knew I had found friendship on that beach. I looked down at the empty tin of fudge that night in my car. “You magic fudge you”, I said out loud.
My life changed. It got bigger, somehow, and busier, and richer, and I left all of that heartache behind in New Zealand a few months later, and moved to Europe. Sometimes it feels like a dream, only I know it wasn’t. It really happened – all of it – and I learned so much about myself and about the world. Living in that car for as many months as I did – it sometimes makes me shudder. I’d never be able to do that again, not even if I were paid to do it. But I somehow lived through that experience without ever complaining about it; I just knew I had to get myself out of trouble, and I did. I never wired home for money – not once. It never even occurred to me. I was always far too independent for that.
I received an invitation to a wedding in Georgia about a year later, when I was living in Ireland. I remember laughing about it, because I knew exactly what I was going to give them. I sent them a gift by mail, but a part of their gift was a hand-written recipe card – for peanut butter fudge.
My friends are happily married, bless them, and they have two adorable children, the youngest of whom is still a toddler. The entire family simply adores my fudge – and I know I have a place to stay in Georgia whenever I visit. Eh, I don’t know; it’s something about life, you know? It always works out.
Fudge helps. Especially magic fudge.
Recipe: Awanthi Vardaraj
Makes: About 2 lbs.
1/3 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup light corn syrup (or 1/4 cup liquid glucose; click here to read my thoughts about corn syrup and instructions on how to substitute liquid glucose for corn syrup and how to handle liquid glucose)
3/4 cup peanut butter (I used my own peanut butter)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
3/4 cup chopped peanuts
3 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted
1) Combine the butter and syrup (or glucose) together.
2) Add the sea salt and vanilla essence and beat until creamy.
3) Stir in the sugar.
4) Turn the mixture out onto a marbled surface or pastry board and work at it until it is blended and smooth.
5) Add the chopped peanuts, pressing it into the mixture until it is combined.
6) Press the fudge into a greased square pan and score it with a greased knife.
7) Chill it overnight or for several hours (at least six to eight).
8) Sit back and be adored.