Writer and photographer, devourblog.com and windowdining.com
New Year, New Food Craze: Fudge Buckets in St. Augustine, Florida
It seems every new year brings with it a new food trend. There was the donut craze of 2011, which begged the eternal question: "Yeast or cake?" There was the froyo obsession of 2010 that had food chemists around the world wondering why anyone would eat cheesecake-flavored frozen yogurt, when cheesecake tastes good neither frozen or yogurty. And remember 2009? It was as if cupcakes were re-born that year -- a new breed of cake no longer limited to Bozo the Clown-era children's parties, but a more sophisticated cute-but-ironically-so cake that became the hallmark of prepsters around the world.
Historians will one day tell the food craze story of 2012. I've got nothing on that one. But 2013? Let me tell it to you now, in jingle form: It's the cup without the cake, it's that treat that tastes so great, sits so yummy in your tummy that you'll really celebrate! It's fudge.
Fudge buckets, to be precise. Butter, sugar and cream, plus whatever flavors your heart desires (Chocolate peanut butter? Maple glazed pecan? Cherry vanilla?) placed into a single serving bucket with a tiny plastic spoon. Fudge has been a staple of Southern U.S. confections for over 100 years and here, in St. Augustine, Florida, the creamy sweet squares can be found in nearly every candy shop.
I first came across Fudge Buckets while sitting in a hotel lobby. There I was, drinking complimentary coffee from a styrofoam cup, living the good life, when a local monthly caught my eye. "St. Augustine's monthly paper!" it read, and then, below, "December Issue!" Well there I was, in St. Augustine in the month of December. I couldn't help but pick it up. And inside, on nearly the last page, I found an article about Gary and Michelle.
For a little less than a year Gary and Michelle, most recently of Myrtle Beach origin, have been innovating in the fudge space. Food entrepreneurs by heart, they stumbled upon the idea of storing fudge in plastic containers during a vacation together. Fudge, usually sold by weight in heaping portions, has the nasty habit of drying out... unless you seal it up in a single serving package. That's how the fudge bucket was born.
So after months touring North and South Carolina in a truck filled with over 1,000 fudge buckets, Gary and Michelle decided to "settle down" in St. Augustine. I say "settle down" because these two are anything but complacent. There's a hectic passion behind Fudge Buckets, from the 187 flavors (18 of which are readily bucketed) to the 2,000 buckets sold per week.
I met Gary by chance. My brother, who is renowned for his endless appetite and lack of regard for weather-appropriate food, was on the hunt for a post-dinner chocolate milkshake. Fudge Buckets appeared on the horizon (they serve Blue Bell ice cream and shakes) and as we stepped in it slowly dawned on me that we were in the very same fudge shop I had read about in the paper. The pieces fell into place: fudge, buckets and an incredibly friendly greeting.
Michelle took my brother over to the ice cream counter for his shake and Gary began to stuff us with samples. If we hesitated to pick a flavor, he would pick one for us. If we didn't like what he chose, he'd eat it himself, grin wide and give us another sample. We ended up with a bag of buckets (chocolate peanut butter and pumpkin) and two new friends.
It's hard to understand what drives the new food trends that seem to take a country by storm. Maybe it's a great recipe. Maybe it's studied execution. Or maybe it's simply passion. Gary and Michelle certainly have all the above. And if their three hours of sleep a night ("Bill Clinton did it") and endless flavor creation is anything to go by, they've got the stamina to create something big.