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The Sweetest Side of the Straits

Certain American cities or regions are known for their specialized cuisine – Philly for its steak sandwiches, New England for its clam chowder, Texas for its bar-b-cue, Atlantic City for its salt water taffy. Here in Michigan, we have Coney dogs in Detroit, pasties in the Upper Peninsula and fudge right here in the Straits of Mackinac!

The sweet history of fudge dates back more than 130 years when Henry and Sara Murdick arrived on Mackinac Island. Henry and his son, Jerome, were commissioned to create canvas awnings for the Grand Hotel which opened in 1887. While they were busy working on that project, Sara put her talents to work as well. Noted for her “exquisite confectionary skills and recipes” she is credited with opening the island’s first candy shop – Murdick’s Candy Kitchen (today, known as Original Murdick’s Fudge…with a location on the Island, one in St. Ignace and one in Mackinaw Crossings). Noted as the longest-operating fudge shop in Michigan, the company is owned by Bob Benser, who still uses Sara’s time-tested recipes.

The first Joann’s Fudge Store was opened by Joan and Frank Nephew on Mackinac Island in 1969 (a second opened the following year there) and in 1980, a third location was established in Mackinaw City. Today, this third-generation family business offers up more than two dozen flavors (like Rocky Road, Raspberry Truffle and Vanilla Salted Carmel) as well as a variety of hand-dipped chocolates, brittles, candies and ice cream.

Devon’s Mackinac Island Fudge & Popcorn Co. is located inside Mackinac Bay Trading Company. Established in 1997, this family-opened and -operated shop boasts more than 3,200-square feet where visitors will find an endless supply of candy, taffy, fudge and popcorn.

Just how BIG is the fudge business in the Straits? In peak season, the more than 20 fudge shops in the Straits of Mackinac area utilize about 10 tons of sugar per week and 10 tons of butter per year just to make these delicious treats. Tourists (affectionally referred to as fudgies) collectively buy as much as 10,000 pounds of fudge per day as sweet souvenirs from their visit to the area. It is said that in one summer week, Original Murdick’s Fudge uses 200 pounds of butter, 200 gallons of cream and 5,000 pounds of sugar (80% of which comes from the thumb area of Michigan) to create its various fudge flavors.

To learn more about this region’s fudge history, pick up “Fudge: Mackinac’s Sweet Souvenir” by Phil Porter of Mackinac State Historic Parks (2001, 40-pages, $7.95). Also, make plans to attend the 2019 Mackinac Island Fudge Festival, coming up August 23-25.