Murdick’s Fudge is the best fudge in Mackinac. I say this, not because I have taste-tested every fudge on Mackinac Island, but because of my story that follows. There are so many different fudge makers on Mackinac Island, and each, of course, claims to be the best. Ryba’s is the shop that started the tradition of fans blowing the fudge scent into the street. May’s bought out Murdick’s in 1940 and continues to make traditional fudge flavors and other candies. Sanders’ specializes in pastries as well as fudge. Murray Hotel Fudge offers more daring flavor combinations. Joann’s sticks to old-fashioned flavors and methods. Each fudge shop has its supporters, but Murdick’s Fudge will forever be my favorite.
Murdick’s Fudge is the original Mackinac Island fudge. It started in 1887 when the Murdick’s came to the island to install canvas awnings at the Grand Hotel. Mrs. Sara Murdick sold fudge made from her own family recipe. When the fudge proved to be a big hit, Mrs. Murdick’s son, Rome, opened a candy shop using her recipe. Rome crafted his fudge on a marble table in view of the customers. Rome’s son, Gould, took over the business and managed to survive through the Great Depression when other candy makers on the island closed.
When World War II led to sugar rationing, Gould Murdick sold the fudge shop to Harold May and promised he would not compete in the candy business for 10 years. When the non-compete clause expired, Jerome Murdick, Gould’s half-brother, opened Murdick’s Candy Kitchen. Every summer Jerome and his wife Grace would live on the island and sell their fudge. In 1955 a young entrepreneur, Bob Benser, opened an ice cream store next to Murdick’s Candy Kitchen. Jerome and Grace made him a part of their family, treating him as the son they never had. When Jerome became ill, Bob stepped in to run the fudge shop. Bob bought Murdick’s in 1969.
Today Murdick’s Fudge still follows Sara Murdick’s recipe and the old-fashioned fudge-making techniques that have been passed down through the generations. Original Murdick’s Fudge has expanded to other locations on Mackinac Island as well as in Mackinaw City and St. Ignace. In addition, the company has three stores and a bakery in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. Bob Benser, Jr. runs the company and continues the Murdick’s Fudge tradition.
But why is Murdick’s Fudge my favorite? I didn’t try all of the fudges on the island – my metabolic syndrome diet would never let me eat that much sugar! I like Murdick’s Fudge the best because of the candy-maker we met as we waited for the Shepler’s Ferry on our way to Mackinac. We were the first people in line for the ferry. As we were standing in line, I struck up a conversation with a man standing next to me. He was in a different line, one for commuters, and had his bike. I asked him what he did on the island and he told me he made fudge. His name is Ricardo and he had worked as a fudge-maker for Murdick’s for 12 years.
Chatting with him helped the time in line pass quickly. When the ferry arrived and we boarded, we said goodbye. after lunch, and before our carriage tour, we went into Murdick’s Fudge on the island to check it out. A young man was making fudge and I tried to engage him in conversation. I asked him why he was using the paddle to fold the fudge on the marble table. He said it was the way he was taught. Not a very satisfactory answer and we left without buying any fudge.
We walked down the street and saw another Murdick’s Fudge shop. Through the window we could see Ricardo folding some fudge on a marble table. We trooped into the shop to talk to Ricardo for a couple of minutes and take some pictures of him making fudge. I asked him why he was folding the fudge with the paddle, and he explained that it broke down the sugar crystals and made the fudge creamier. That made a lot of sense. We told him about the other fudge-maker and Ricardo laughed. He trains all the seasonal fudge makers and he said, by this time in the season, most of them were not very enthusiastic about fudge-making. I asked Ricardo if he got tired of it, and he said “Never!” He said he still sampled every batch he made for quality control.
Then Ricardo asked all of us if we wanted a sample. He didn’t have to ask us twice! He gave us each a bit of the end he had just cut off. It was Maple Bourbon Pecan and everyone except me loved it. I don’t like nuts in anything I eat and there were lots of pecans. We appreciated Ricardo giving us a sample because the shop didn’t offer any samples. Although we left without buying anything on that visit, we knew we would be back later in the day.
Murdick’s Fudge was our last stop on the island before we boarded the ferry. I asked Ricardo which flavor was the best and he said Chocolate Peanut Butter. So I got a slice of that. Tom said he didn’t want any. I didn’t want to buy much because a little bit of fudge lasts me a long time and fudge doesn’t improve with age. Sandy bought several flavors. We all said goodbye again to Ricardo and headed back to St. Ignace.
That night I asked Tom if he wanted a piece of fudge. He said no, he only liked fudge that had nuts in it. Chocolate Walnut is his favorite. I asked him why he didn’t say something in the fudge shop and he said he didn’t want a half pound of it, which is the only size Murdick’s sells it in.
Sandy, Tom, and I spent the next day exploring St. Ignace (more on that next week) and we found the Murdick’s Fudge shop in St. Ignace. There was Ricardo, hard at work folding the fudge. We went in and promised him that we really weren’t stalking him. He laughed and asked if we had come to buy more fudge. We replied that we had not because we had enough to eat currently. Then he told us a dangerous secret. Fudge doesn’t keep well in the refrigerator, but you can freeze fudge. Before you freeze it, you cut it up into serving sized pieces. Then you freeze it and, when you want a piece, you take it out and let it thaw for 15 minutes. Then you pop it into the microwave for just five seconds and it tastes as fresh as the day you bought it.
That was all the excuse we needed to buy lots more fudge. I bought some Chocolate Cherry, some Peanut Butter, and some Chocolate Walnut for Tom. Because I bought three kinds, I got a small, free Murdick’s bag. Sandy bought two more kinds and asked if she could have the bigger free bag because she had bought five kinds, even though it was two different days. The sales lady laughed and said, “Sure, since you are a friend of Ricardo’s.”
Ricardo said that he usually worked out of the St. Ignace store because it was open year-round and took care of the online business. He also said we could order more fudge online after we left the area. Ricardo is a good spokesperson for Murdick’s Fudge! Before we left he asked if we wanted a sample. He had been working on another slab of Maple Bourbon Pecan. Sandy and Tom immediately said yes, and Ricardo gave them the entire end of the slab – almost a 1/2 pound! It pays to know the right people.
We went back to Murdick’s Fudge the next day, not to buy more fudge, but because we wanted to say goodbye to Ricardo. Meeting him made our visit more personal and special. We didn’t buy any more fudge, but Sandy and I both got a scoop of Moomer’s Ice Cream from the shop. I got Cherries Moobilee which was black cherry ice cream with chunks of cherry, brownie, and swirls of chocolate fudge. So good!
And that is why Murdick’s Fudge will always be my favorite Mackinac Island fudge. Thank you, Ricardo, for taking time to talk to a bunch of nosy tourists.