Aunt Hen's Kitchen
When I was a little girl I loved peanut butter. I chose to take a peanut butter sandwich to school for lunch almost every day. That was a sandwich made with a thick layer of peanut butter between two slices of white bread. Jelly was not a part of the equation. I also ate peanut butter with a spoon from the jar. Peanut butter was a staple in my diet.
So it’s really no surprise that, growing up, my favorite holiday treat was Peanut Butter Fudge. I loved the taste and soft creamy texture and I loved helping Aunt Hen make it. I felt very grown up as I stood on a stool in the kitchen so that I could stand tall enough to stir the brown sugar and cream on the stove top until it reached the soft ball stage.
Aunt Hen didn’t use a candy thermometer. She could tell when the fudge was done by the way it poured from a spoon lifted above the rim of the pot. She could tell by the thickness and texture of the pour, the way it clung to the spoon and dropped off.
I think it was mostly for my benefit that she also proved it was ready in a teacup of cold water. When the boil changed and the syrup thickened slightly my aunt would test for the soft ball stage by dropping a scant spoonful into the water and dabbing it together with her fingers. If it held and formed a smooth ball that didn’t fall apart and could be shaped with your fingers like soft dough, it was ready to be taken from the heat. Then the peanut butter, marshmallow cream and vanilla were stirred in and the mixture was left on the breezeway to cool.
The Best Part
After a while Aunt Hen would check the fudge. She would lay the open palm of her hand against the bottom of the pot. If she could hold it there the fudge was ready. When I tried it always still felt hot to me but my aunt knew what she was looking for. When the pot was the right temperature, we would bring it into the house and stir it. We stirred until the fudge became almost too thick to pour and then spread it in a greased 8-inch square pan before taking it back to the breezeway to firmly set.
Back in the house was the very best part. My aunt would let me take the empty fudge pot and taste any bits that had been left on the side or on the spoon. There was always enough left to satisfy and it tasted all the better for being warm and for the effort of scraping it from the pot. Sometimes I would share a taste but mostly it was mine, for helping, and being there to share the work.
Finally, when the fudge was set, we would cut it and put it away in a pretty Christmas tin, nestled between layers of waxed paper. Then I could taste a finished piece. No matter how it turned out it was always divine! I think it was because of the magic of Aunt Hen’s kitchen. Busy, messy, warm, accepting and productive, that was one of my favorite places to spend time as I was growing up.
Now I make Peanut Butter Fudge every Christmas season in my own kitchen. This year I have made three batches already and I’m sure I will make more. The memories are a blessing and the fudge is enjoyed as much by my friends and family as it was by an earlier generation who gathered around Aunt Hen's table.
Peanut Butter Fudge
from Aunt Hen's kitchen
2 cups light brown sugar
2/3 cups milk or light cream
1 cup marshmallow cream
1 cup peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
Combine the brown sugar and milk or cream in a large (3 or 4 quart) saucepan. Bring to a boil. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture reaches the soft ball stage (236-240 degrees F, I do use a candy thermometer) when tried in ice cold water.
Remove from heat and add marshmallow cream, peanut butter (use the crunchy kind if you like) and vanilla.
Let cool slightly (My aunt's test was to let it cool until you could hold your hand on the bottom of the pan. My experience is that her hands were tougher than mine! My pot is still hot when I begin stirring but is cool enough not to actually burn me as I hold it to stir the fudge). Beat until thick and creamy - almost too thick to stir.
Smooth into buttered pan. When fudge is set, cut into squares.
Note: Instead of pouring the beaten fudge into a pan to set, Peanut Butter Fudge can also be molded into holiday shapes and decorated for special occasions. I have used this recipe to make Peanut Butter Fudge Easter Eggs and chocolate topped Peanut Butter Fudge Cutouts for special occasion novelties and gifts.