Of all the culinary accidents in human history, which include the chocolate chip cookie and, if you believe Charles Lamb's account, roast pork -- surely fudge must rank among the most serendipitous.
No one knows for sure just who made the first pan of fudge, but most everybody agrees it was invented by mistake -- and it's uniquely American.
As Lee Edwards Benning notes in her exhaustive treatise on the subject, fudge was unknown outside this country by those who might've been expected to discover it first. Thus the Chinese, who in the 7th century sent ambassadors to India to learn the secrets of sugar refining, did not know of fudge.
Neither did the Spanish, despite the fact that they were the ones who introduced sugar cane seedlings to the New World.
Not even the French, who gave birth to the confectionery arts can take credit for devising fudge.
The first verifiable account on the origin of fudge comes from Evelyn B. Hartridge, an 1892 graduate of Vasser College. She whipped up 30 pounds of the confection to sell at the senior auction in 1888 and from there it caught on across the campus and spread to Smith and Leslie colleges. Girls would concoct it over gas lamps that hung in their rooms.
While we cannot be absolutely certain who made the first batch of fudge, it is reasonable to conclude that its name derives from the use of the term "fudge" as an expletive. Expletive of a less tame variety might well be uttered by anyone making a batch of fudge because the confection has a reputation for being difficult to make.
But if worse comes to worse, you can turn disaster into triumph by simply using failed fudge for something else -- like topping for ice cream.
After all, as Benning points out, since fudge began as an accident, if yours doesn't come out right -- you didn't fail, you were just too successful for your own good.