Penuche (peh-NOO-chee) is the "original" fudge flavor, hitting the American culinary scene long before the chocolate fudge that we know now. This smooth-as-silk candy has a brown sugar base and relies on the caramelization of the brown sugar and a hint of vanilla for its flavoring. Nuts are sometimes mixed in the Penuche, with pecans as the nut of choice, but other types of nuts can be used as well.
Until I moved to Florida, I was completely unaware that Penuche was a New England favorite not found in many other parts of the country, although it was once popular in Hawaii, both as a fudge and as a boiled icing. The Hawaiians localized the name and it become known as Panocha or Panoche. There is also a similar treat popular in Mexico.
I totally grew up on this stuff, and as I recall, it was one of the first things my Mom taught me how to cook. Although I'm not generally a big candy-fanatic, just thinking about Penuche brings me straight back to my childhood, with happy memories of cooking with my Mom, Fern.
My Mom's Penuche
1 2-lb box light brown sugar (4-1/2 cups, firmly packed)
1 cup evaporated milk
1/2 cup butter
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 cups chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)
In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, mix sugar, milk, butter and salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until sugar is dissolved. Continue cooking until the mixture reaches the "soft ball" stage (238 degrees or until a small amount of mixture dropped into cold water forms a soft ball). Remove from heat and let stand until lukewarm, approximately 110 degrees.
Add vanilla and nuts. Beat until mixture is thick and loses its gloss. Pour into buttered 9 inch square pan. When firm, cut into squares.
Makes about 3 pounds.