The hunt for Michael Freyer’s Fudge

The Irish Times: We Love Food – Deirdre Veldon, duty editor


In the 1970s, Cleggan was a typical west of Ireland fishing village in many ways. But one thing made it special. Cleggan was home of the weekly country market staged by an industrious group of residents – locally known as “the CofI set”.

On summer Tuesdays, especially when we had visitors, we’d tootle over from Letterfrack and pull up at an unprepossessing old outhouse which was home to the country market where fresh veggies and wild flowers, jams and chutneys, scones and sponge cakes were on sale.

For this farmers’ market veteran of the future, the undisputed highlight was Michael Freyer’s fudge. A handwritten tag on the bag described it as “plain fudge”. It was confectionery perfection. Buttery, crumbly, almost dry, it had a vanilla sugar flavour that lived long on the palate.

Not for me a fudge binge though. I would buy one or two of the crinkly cellophane bags, bring it home and hide it, ekeing it out at a rate of a square or two a day, just to make it last until we next had an excuse to hit the market.

As a London-based architect who had returned to his ancestors’ homeland for his retirement, Freyer was a most unlikely maker of the ne plus ultra of fudge.

It took many years to sample competitors’ fudge offerings – those of chocolate and mint swirl, marshmallow, neapolitan and chocolate chip. Sacrilege! Fudge should always be plain.

With the realisation that Freyer’s fudge was beyond compare, I decided to go about finding the recipe. But Michael Freyer had died, taking his famously secret recipe with him. I experimented, to no avail.

I had almost given up when I heard – whisper it – that an enterprising local woman had charmed the recipe from Freyer. The catch was that it was given under strict promise that it remained secret.

We negotiated, this woman and I. She was prepared to share the recipe if I kept it under wraps and only if I could give her the recipe for the chicken wing sauce they used at Elephant & Castle. That was a curved ball if there ever was one.

Fate intervened just at that moment in the form of Frank’s Red Hot Chicken Wing Sauce, which had just arrived in Ireland. I handed it over and gleefully received the coveted recipe, written in Freyer’s own hand.

The recipe was as quirky as it was simple. There were strict instructions to use one pot for the fudge and never to cook anything else in it. Nor to use washing up liquid to clean it. And never, but never, to make the fudge on a misty day in Connemara.

I still make Freyer’s fudge regularly. No, I haven’t forgotten to include the recipe here. And yes, it’s just as good as it used to be. Whisht.

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