By Catherine Darnell
Twenty years ago, a fellow fifth-grade teacher brought a batch of unusual fudge to Donna Elliott’s school and dared her co-workers to guess what was in it. Their best guesses failed the test.
The crunch was not from nuts, as everyone thought. It was from soda crackers, a decidedly unexpected ingredient for fudge. Donna asked for the recipe, which turned out to be as simple as it was baffling. She’s still making it today.
“In fact, I made a batch of it last night and took it to our FCE meeting and got second place,” she says. The winner was a more predictable fudge with peanuts and raisins coated in white chocolate.
“It was my own fault I lost,” she says in retrospect. “I overcooked it. When you want it to turn out right, it doesn’t.”
But the Farm Bureau Women thought it was a winner, publishing it in the organization’s cookbook, now in its second printing. Donna loves that cookbook, which she uses frequently, along with one titled Copper Kettle, which she brought with her when she and her husband David moved to Petersburg, a tiny town near Lewisburg, 12 years ago.
They fell in love with Tennessee when they came for a visit to help a friend arrange flowers for a wedding.
“We sat on the porch in T-shirts,” she remembers, “and went back to snow. I couldn’t keep David in Michigan after that. We’d shoveled enough snow.”
Along with the climate of the South, they embraced its food. Most of the time.
“I really enjoy the Southern cooking. But the idea of cornbread at every meal was hard to get used to,” she says with a chuckle. Along with cornbread and fat back seasoning, her new neighbors taught her how to cook chess pie; she returned the favor with fruit pizza, mincemeat pie and what she calls a proper apple pie.
While her at-home menus may have acquired a Southern accent, they still have Michigan roots. For her husband she prepares parsnips and rutabaga when she can find them, dump cake (so named because everything is dumped into the pan and not stirred) and no-bake cookies. When she goes back to Michigan for a visit with her kids and nine grandchildren, a Dutch apple pie is still the center of attention. Local FCE (a newer version of the home demonstration club), Farm Bureau and church potlucks will find her toting salads loaded with every ingredient imaginable or a squash and tomato casserole that is a huge hit. The mailman, shut-ins and senior citizens often receive a loaf of Amish Friendship Bread – the starter “doctored” with orange juice, pistachio pudding, coconut and crushed pineapple – or, perhaps, a tin of Soda Cracker Fudge.
“I usually make it at Christmastime and off and on during the year, when we get hungry for something really sweet,” she says. “It’s quite sweet or, I guess, rich would be the right word.
“It’s very easy to do. In fact, after I’d been given the recipe, when the 4-H girls wanted to make some fudge, that was the fudge I’d have them make.”
With nary a nut in sight.