Onalee Cable Makes True Mackinac Island Fudge
The 81-year-old Wyandotte woman was raised in a cooking and baking family on Mackinac Island.
Onalee Cable, 81, of Wyandotte has to laugh when she thinks about Mackinac Island as a place full of fudge shops.
Long before the island became synonymous with fudge and long before tourists in northern Michigan were known as “fudgies,” she was making fudge on the island where she was born and raised.
"In the winter, we didn’t have much to do, so we made our own treats,” Onalee said.
She was the middle child of seven siblings who grew up in the Smith family. They were Chippewa, and lived in a part of the island set aside for them, known as Indian Village.
“They moved all the Indians into the woods,” she said. “It was poor times, 1930, when I was born. Indians were living in shacks and old houses and whatever they could put together. We didn’t have running water. We had an outhouse. I remember when we got electricity.”
The family would “import” its water in a barrel from a relatives’ home, and that’s what they used for cooking, drinking, washing and bathing, heating it on a wood-burning stove.
That same stove was what her mother used to do her famous baking—rolls, bread and pies that are still talked about with awe by Onalee’s children—and that stove is where Onalee and her siblings learned to make fudge.
When she was very young, her older sister, Nova, would make the sweet treat.
“She would make it for us, and the smell would drive us half nuts,” Onalee said, stirring a big, deep pan of fudge on her electric stove.
And just as she said, the smell of the cooking chocolate was making everyone in the house “half nuts.” Fudge, made correctly, takes its own sweet time, and the aroma announces its advent long before it’s time to sample.
Onalee attended the “Old Mission School” on the island, which today, is a museum. Her family had a pony, as did many people on the island where cars still aren’t allowed.
“We hitched him up to a sleigh and we’d take him across the ice to St. Ignace to buy groceries,” Onalee said. “When we came home from school, my mother would have a big crock of baked beans on the stove, and a lot of times, that was our supper with some homemade rolls.”
The children of Indian Village played in the deep snow each winter, tramping down the snow in a field so they’d have a place to run. They made an ice rink with water diverted from a hydrant and skated.
“The volunteer fire department every year would bring Christmas gifts to the poor people,” Onalee said.
Usually, the gifts were walnuts, a piece of candy and an orange. And one year, the Smith kids got ice skates from the firefighters.
Perched on a stool by the stove, she stirred and stirred the slowly heating fudge as she talked about growing up in Indian Village on the island.
“I’m not the baker my mother was,” she said, “but I can follow her recipes. I can make pies like she made and fudge like she made.”
She looked into her pot of chocolate, just beginning to bubble.
"When it boils up twice, then it’s time to start watching for soft-ball stage,” Onalee said, stirring and stirring. “The minute you walk away from it, it scorches. You have to stay with it and you can’t get impatient.”
Her husband, the late Bruce Cable, grew up in Wyandotte. His family owned the Lakeview Hotel on Mackinac Island, and he spent summers working there. Eventually, he met Onalee.
“The island wasn’t very big,” she said. “You knew everyone. He was my boyfriend from the time I was 13 or 14.”
After high school, Bruce and Onalee were married, and he went off to do his time in the military.
“When he got out of the Marines, we came to Wyandotte to live,” she said.
The Cables stayed in Wyandotte and had eight children. One was a stillborn daughter. Talking about her still brings tears for Onalee. She worked for many years as an information operator for Michigan Bell, retiring in 1993.
She dripped a few drops of thickening fudge into a glass of cold water, dipped in her hand and brought out a squishy ball. She popped the tiny blob into her mouth with a grin and declared the fudge was ready to come off the low heat for the additions of butter and vanilla—and more stirring.
Onalee is famous with friends and family members for her fudge—the recipe for which came long before the fudge shops opened up on Mackinac Island—and also for her peanut brittle.
ONALEE CABLE’S FUDGE
2/3 cup Hershey’s Unsweetened Cocoa
3 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup evaporated milk mixed with 3/4 cup water
4 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
Mix cocoa and sugar together well in a deep pan. Then add evaporated milk and water. Stir well over medium-low heat until mixtures comes to a full boil and thickens. (Stir it down after the first full boil and when it reaches the second full boil, it should be ready.)
Test a few drops in cold water. When the drops hold together in a small, soft ball in the water, take the fudge off the stove.
Stir in butter and vanilla. Stir mixture well until it cools and loses its gloss. Once the shine is gone, spoon the soft fudge into a lightly buttered serving pan. It will firm up as it cools (if you can wait that long).