Sometimes, a sweet comes along that makes you want to become their official ambassador and travel the globe spreading the sweet gospel, introducing everyone to this magical stuff.
One such sweet, and you'll know exactly what I am talking about if you've ever tasted it, is Ryba's Fudge from Mackinac Island in Michigan.
If you are in any way tempted to say "I don't like fudge," well, I urge you to silence your dirty, untrustworthy mouth with a piece of a fudge unlike any other you have tasted.
And while you let it melt in your mouth, let me tell you a little of the story of the late Mr. Ryba, who left a legacy as the "Fudge King" of Mackinac Island, and his fudge.
Mr. Ryba was born in Detroit on June 19, 1907 and grew up the eldest of five children in Utica, Michigan. He began working on the family farm, and in the mid 1930’s rented a storefront in which he began selling caramel corn and popcorn near a Detroit movie theater. In 1950, he grew both amused and irritated with a twelve year old boy selling The Detroit News outside his store. The young man had such a loud voice that Mr. Ryba always claimed he would scare his customers away. He also admired the young man’s drive, so he hired “Victor”, his eventual partner and son-in-law. Together they started making fudge. They were so successful, they branched out to sell at state fairs and other events that brought large crowds.
In 1960, they rented their first Mackinac Island store and began selling their fudge. Since that time, Mr. Ryba and his son-in-law have been a major force in the competitive fudge trade and have helped put this originally small resort town on the map. Also know as “the man of ideas,” Mr. Ryba helped transform this island into the place it is today. He was up at first light, a hands-on type person who was everywhere his many business ventures took him.
In March of 1996, he passed away at the age of 88. He left a major legacy in the generations that have followed in his footsteps. His son-in-law and grandchildren have continued in the fudge and candy trade, and today five stores are operated in the downtown area. Ryba’s trademark pink stores and pink bags represent the past and present of the fudge and candy trade. “Victor’s Caramel Corn” is the seed of the industry and what started the company so many years ago.
What started in Detroit, and moved to Mackinac Island may now be found at Chicago’s McCormick Place and Navy Pier. His grandchildren happily continue the legacy of fresh, quality fudge cooked in copper kettles and creamed on marble slabs. “When you see it made you know it’s fresh,” and we make it fresh daily at two of our downtown locations. Like Mr. Ryba, we’d be happy to put on a show!
I need you to know that I love that story. I love the idea of such an enterprise--fudge as something that would please tourists and give them a unique sweet memory, as well as a treat to bring back home.
But more importantly, I need you to know how much I love this fudge. I, like some out there, am not the biggest-hugest fudge fan. Growing up with substandard "chocolate sand" varieties sold on the Jersey Shore, I have often found the stuff underwhelming.
But this Ryba's fudge is different. I think that the pictures at least slightly conveys it, but not completely. The texture is nothing like the gritty stuff that all too often passes as fudge. This is the absolute smoothest fudge I have ever had. It is like silk on the tongue. It melts like ganache. It's sweet, but not obnoxiously so. It begs you to have another bite. Although it's so smooth that it's not so much a bite as a gentle avalanche of sweetness in your mouth.
I had a sampler, so there were plenty of types to try--plain, Chocolate Pecan, Turtle, Cookies and Cream, Peanut Butter, Chocolate Peanut Butter. One after the other, the fudge varieties were simple and straightforward--I wouldn't call them a fancy food, exactly, but each one was just as smooth and as simply exquisite as my first bite.
But don't take my word for it--take a five year old's. I watch and do baking and art lessons for two sweet girls every now and again, and the younger one, upon tasting the Cookies and Cream variety, said "this is really good stuff."
It is really good stuff. And for me, an evocative food memory, and a telling one. It was like the taste of this fudge was good enough to match my idealized memories of growing up by the Jersey shore, but this treat needed no filter of time or memory--it was just excellent, plain and simple.
Ryba's Fudge; for more information or to buy, visit ryba.com.