2013-08-23 / Columnists

A Look at History

Selma Dufina Was Among Island’s Fudge Makers at Her Own Shop

The 2013 Mackinac Island Fudge Festival will be Friday, August 23, and Saturday, August 24. For this writer, thinking about fudge reminds me of the kindly face of longtime Mackinac Islander Selma Dufina. It was always to “Selma’s” that our summertime family would go as our last stop before leaving Mackinac Island. There, we would pick up boxes of hand-dipped chocolate candy for the kids, and one or two boxes of fudge for our parents to share at work.

Selma was not the first fudge maker on Mackinac Island, nor was she even the first woman fudge maker, a distinction that belongs to Emma Angell and Cora Phelps, according to Phil Porter in his book, “Fudge: Mackinac’s Sweet Souvenir.” The May and several branches of the Murdick families have been pouring confectionery onto marble tables for generations now, and by the early 1970s – the decade when I was growing up – the Ryba-Callewaert family had remade the Mackinac fudge scene with a rainbow of new colors and flavors. “Selma’s,” by contrast, operated from a single shop at the head of the Arnold Dock. It was big enough to support one master confectioner who possessed the keys to the magic kingdom of chocolate and sugar. Bumpy pecan bark, burllike chocolate almonds, knobbly chocolate raisins, and bird’s nest chocolate coconut could all be had here. Selma was most proud of her butter creams.

Artisan chocolates, like the goods sold at Selma’s, showed up surprisingly late on the tables of the world. About the time Selma Dufina was born in December 1914, American merchants with access to the smooth, industrial chocolate made by new Swiss machines were starting to sell it to candy makers as a substance that could be heated and then poured, dipped, or enrobed with nuts, raisins, mint cream, and other substances. Before this time, cocoa beans from the cacao tree were ground into cocoa. For centuries, cocoa was drunk as a heated beverage on cold days. In the 1880s, candy makers like Mackinac Island’s Harry Murdick learned how to combine cocoa, sugar, butter, and milk into chocolate fudge. Swiss chocolate makers such as Rudolf Lindt took the idea of combining cocoa solids and fat one step further. Cocoa butter, the vegetable fat from the cocoa bean itself, could be emulsified into cocoa solids to make solid dark chocolate. By the 1920s, candy stores were selling high-end chocolates next to fudge; as a young woman, Selma Dufina made and sold candy in shop space inside the Murray Hotel.

Traditionally, the job of a woman in a candy store was behind the counter as the employee who served the chocolate or ran the cash register. At age 30, Selma Dufina decided she would operate and run her own confectionery. It was 1945, and World War II was ending. Sugar and gasoline rationing coupons were being thrown into the garbage, and tourists from Michigan and other states would soon flock to Mackinac Island to see the sights and buy a souvenir or two. “Selma’s Home Made Candy,” her first proprietary candy store, was on the first floor of the Chippewa Hotel. Soon the head of the Arnold Dock was landscaped to contain open space and Selma’s clapboarded fudge shop, the first woman-owned confectionery on the Island.

Close to the water, Selma’s store was a good location to make traditional Mackinac Island fudge, just as its 14 or so successor shops are on Main Street to this day. Behind the sales room was a separate candy kitchen; unlike other Island fudge shops, this key stage of the process was carried out behind the scenes at Selma’s. The fudge mixture, after being heated toward emulsification, was poured out onto a traditional white-marble table and then slowly handpaddled into a log. With fudge, the paddling process completes the emulsification and creates a soft confection with an attractive “mouth-feel” of complex cocoa flavors.

Complex is also the story of the Dufinas and Bynoes of Mackinac Island, into which Selma Dufina had married. With roots alike in the Native Americans of North America and in Ireland, the Dufina family seems to define our Island’s history. As Selma’s shop was opening up on Main Street, cousin-once-removed Frank Dufina was a hair more than halfway through his recordbreaking 60-year tenure as the resident pro at Mackinac Island’s

Wawashkamo Golf Links. Longtime postmaster Emerson Dufina was one of the men who kept Mackinac Island going for many years. Closer to our time, the Dufinas, like restaurateur Ron Dufina, recipient of the first Lifetime Achievement Award of the Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau, have placed the stamp of their personalities on northern Michigan and the Straits of Mackinac.

By the time I got to know her in the early 1970s, whitehaired Selma had become the middle-aged matriarch of Mackinac Island’s candy scene. Tirelessly manning her shop counter, the cheerful lady upheld the standards that she had set when she had gone into business three decades earlier.

“I don’t know just why (my) fudge sells as well as it does,” she said in 1973, to a reporter for the Salt Lake Tribune.

Perhaps it was because it was the height of the baby boom, and a second generation of children had discovered that nothing had been lost from the candy sold to the first generation. Some of the kids told each other that she must have discovered some extra steps to add to the hand-dipping process used to produce the quality chocolates, such as pecan bark, offered for sale: steps that made her confectionery a bit better than those that could be had anywhere else. Whether this was true, there will always be some secrets in the chocolate business. When Selma sold out to the Petoskey-based Kilwin’s chain, the purchaser apparently asked for and received her recipes, as well, and for some years Selma-like chocolates could be had at Kilwin’s on Main Street.

Selma Dufina’s memory, as one of the first independent businesswomen of the “second wave” of female achievement on Mackinac Island, lasted long after her passing in January 1998.

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