Copper kettles and a minnow tank hold the “gold” in the shop I share with my grandpa Gil, whom I’ve affectionately called Gilpa since I said my first words thirty-some years ago.
Gilpa and I own Oosterlings’ Live Bait, Bobbers & Belgian Fudge & Beer on the docks of the bay in Fishers’ Harbor.
We’re located in Door County, Wisconsin, a peninsula known as the “Cape Cod of the Midwest” because of its rustic beauty, boating, arts, and recreation that draw tourists. No fast food restaurants are allowed above the canal zone that splits our county. The canal connects our bay known as Green Bay with the main body of Lake Michigan.
I returned to Door County when Grandma Sophie broke a leg. I’d spent eight years in Los Angeles trying to be a TV writer after a failed marriage. In my twenties I eloped with a man who had two other wives he was still married to. Oops! Grandma and Grandpa helped me forget that indiscretion by gathering the equipment to run a fudge shop. I arrived in May to find Gilpa had moved his minnow tank to make room for the copper kettles they’d found. He’d also moved the singular apostrophe in the shop’s name to plural to accommodate both of us. With love like that, I had to stay in Fishers’ Harbor.
By five o’clock a.m. my grandpa is helping customers load up with fishing bait, and I’m making fudge. I created the Fisherman’s Catch Tall Tale line for the guys and the Fairy Tale flavors for women and girls. Cinderella Pink Fairy Tale Fudge is made with our famous Door County cherries, Belgian chocolate, and cream from my parents’ farm.
Oosterling is a common Belgian name. This area was settled by a lot of Belgians in the 1850s, as well as Scandinavian people. Back then, the United States advertised in Europe for farmers, fishermen, and forestry workers. Many Belgians came to Door County and bought land for $1.25 an acre. Today, this area of Wisconsin is considered to have the largest U.S. rural population of Belgians.
What makes a Belgian unique besides excellent chocolate and beer? Booyah!
Booyah is a tomato-based vegetable-and-chicken stew made over an open fire in a steel drum for the community fall kermis, or harvest festival. Most Belgian communities here—such as Namur and Brussels—hold a kermis. Anybody is welcome to enjoy the good music, games, and of course Belgian beer, pies, and booyah.
Belgian pies—like my fudge—are also special. Belgian pie pans are 12 inches across. We’re also known for small pies the size of a large Danish pastry topped with generous amounts of chocolate pudding and fruits.
Belgians are also famous for beautiful lawns and flower gardens. My Grandma Sophie and Grandpa Gil have a huge garden that attracts butterflies in the back of their cabin home on Duck Marsh Street. Since I began sharing the bait shop with Gilpa, I’ve added flower boxes to the front windows overlooking the harbor. I also love roses and have created a rose fudge recipe which you can try by visiting my shop.
I enjoy the harbor view every day as I make my fudge. Making fudge is hard physical work. The chocolate comes in kilo bars or chips from Belgium. Once I put the rich chocolate, cream, and ten or more pounds of sugar into the copper kettle, it’s a matter of stirring it by hand for many minutes with a four-foot wood paddle. And you can’t stop for a rest or you’ll ruin the fudge.
Making fudge is akin to science, which I love. The heat and action of stirring changes the sugar crystals from white crystals to liquid, and then to fudge consistency. The batch changes from dull to shiny to something rich-looking.
Here are tips for making small batches of fudge at home:
- Add your ingredients in the exact order called for in the recipe, and stir a lot non-stop. Fudge likes tender loving care and constant motion.
- If your fudge becomes hard taffy or is too runny, reheat it and add more chocolate chips or cream or butter depending on whether you need to harden it or soften it.
- If it still doesn’t turn out, use it as ice cream topping or frosting. I’ve also added unruly soft fudge chunks to muffin batter for moist muffins.
After making fudge in my shop for the day, I often connect up with my best friend Pauline Mertens. She’s a kindergarten teacher. We sometimes end up talking with Jordy Tollefson—our sheriff. And he doesn’t like seeing us coming. He knows there’s been a murder and I’m connected to it somehow. But Jordy likes my fudge, so he’s an okay guy.
Christine DeSmet’s new Fudge Shop Mystery Series (Penguin Random House), set in Door County, Wisconsin, debuted last September with Book 1, First-Degree Fudge. It enjoyed 10 weeks on the Barnes & Noble mystery bestseller list.
Book 2, Hot Fudge Frame-Up, debuted June 3, 2014. Ava Oosterling is gearing up for the First Annual Fudge Festival when a fight between her guest celebrity chefs spawns a nasty recipe for murder with the blame pointed right at Ava and with her grandparents put in grave danger.
Comment on this post by 6 p.m. EST on June 27, and you will be entered for a chance to win a copy of HOT FUDGE FRAME-UP. One winner will be chosen at random. Unless specified, U.S. entries only.
Meet the author
Christine is a writing teacher at University of Wisconsin-Madison Continuing Studies where she mentors writers of novels, screenplays, plays, and short fiction. She directs the “Write-by-the-Lake Writer’s Retreat” every June in Madison. Her other publications include Spirit Lake, a romantic suspense novel from Hard Shell Word Factory. Christine is a past winner of the Slamdance Film Festival and optioned that screenplay to New Line Cinema. She’s a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Romance Writers of America, Writers Guild of America, and Wisconsin Screenwriters Forum. www.christinedesmet.com.
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