By JANE WILSON, Special Contributor | Published November 24, 2005
At the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, on the basement floor of the monastery proper, is a room marked by a sign reading “The Fudgery.” Inside this room, the monks create a variety of smooth and creamy fudge designed to tempt the sweet tooth of every candy lover.
The fudgery is the brainchild of Father Anthony Delisi, OCSO. He explained that, although the dictionary does not recognize the word, “if you can have a bakery, you can have a fudgery!” Father Anthony and his fellow monks certainly make good use of their fudgery by producing a candy that is smooth and creamy, rich and flavorful. For consumers worried about calories, Father Anthony also noted that the fudgery used to be the “Diet Kitchen,” and that sign still hangs as well.
The monastery’s signature flavor, “Southern Touch,” is delicious chocolate fudge highlighted by the taste of real peaches, peach brandy and pecans. The inspiration for the Southern Touch fudge came from the monastery’s motherhouse in Kentucky, which markets a brand of fudge flavored with bourbon. Father Anthony explained that at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, they wanted a flavor that was unique to their kitchen and true to the region. Using ingredients common in Georgia cooking, they developed a recipe that “keeps the taste of the fudge, but the brandy comes out with the taste of the pieces of peach,” said Father Anthony. Indeed, the peaches, pecans and brandy complement, but do not overpower, the creamy taste of the chocolate fudge.
For those who prefer a white fudge, the monastery also specializes in a rich maple walnut vanilla fudge that makes a perfect companion to the Southern Touch. Both of these flavors are available in beautiful 12-ounce gift boxes in the Abbey Store or on the Internet for $11.95. At the Abbey Store on the grounds of the monastery, the monks offer plain chocolate, chocolate nut and monthly seasonal varieties of fudge, in addition to the Southern Touch and the Maple Walnut, in half-pound containers for $5.95.
Father Anthony began his fudge experiment only a year and a half ago. In June 2004, he created a treat for the reception at the Abbatial Blessing of Dom Francis Michael Stiteler. The response was so positive that he began to create the fudge on a larger scale. The first packages were sold in the Abbey Store last October, and over 2,000 boxes flew off the shelves last Christmas. The fudgery expanded from one to two kettles last winter, and the monastery recently invested in a machine that measures the ingredients, ensuring the perfect combination.
The monks have developed an efficient assembly-line process for creating the fudge. Father Anthony joked, “Everybody has to be a senior citizen to work on it!” Father Anthony and lay volunteer Col. Tom O’Malley (retired from the U.S. Air Force) do the mixing and dump the ingredients into the hopper. Father Richard Donarski, OSCO, who is 81 and blind in one eye, works the pedal and dispenses the fudge into individual trays, while Brother Dennis Markle, a novice, places these small trays into larger trays. Brother Chukwuemeka Maduike helps with the packaging and wherever he is needed.
This group effort results in over 500 boxes of fudge for a morning’s work. The monks usually cook the fudge two mornings each week and spend an additional two days a week packaging the fudge. Although the monks are currently trying to limit their inventory to ensure its freshness, they are ready and able to step up production as they try to reach a wider market.
The fudge is only one of several monastic products that are being presented for sale by the monastery under the new label “The Abbot’s Table.” These high quality food products represent the best that the monastery has to offer, including fruitcakes, coffee and, of course, that delicious fudge. Consumers can even get a combination of products in the form of gift baskets, which range in price from $25 to $100. These products are featured online and in a new catalog to be released in the coming weeks.
The monastery uses the sale of these food products to generate an income for the monastery and fulfill the tenet of self-sufficiency toward which the monks strive. Formerly known for their homemade breads, in recent years the monks have gained recognition for the delectable fruitcakes created in the monastery kitchen. Unfortunately, the fire at the old monastery this past spring damaged much of the fruitcake inventory, and the monks were in danger of losing both income and customers. Luckily, the monks have jumped in and been able to produce enough of the fruit and brandy-filled treat to see them through the holidays.
The fudge sales, however, are doubly important in light of the fruitcake loss, and the monks hope that the candy sales will at least match the sales of the popular cakes. In fact, said Father Anthony, “I won’t be surprised if the fudge outdoes the fruitcake. Not everyone likes fruitcake, but most everybody has a sweet tooth.”
In addition, fudge is a treat that is popular year-round, not just at Christmas. To capitalize on that popularity, Father Anthony oversees the production of seasonal varieties of fudge, each available for only a month at a time. Examples of past flavors include Strawberry, Apricot, Peanut Butter, and Key Lime. November’s flavor is a smooth and spicy Pumpkin Pie fudge that includes 7 and a half pounds of pumpkin to each 30 pounds of fudge, and Father Anthony promises that he will be adding his homemade eggnog to December’s monthly special.
Father Anthony is a man who believes in the healing power of prayer, and in his recently published book, “Praying in the Cellar,” published by Paraclete Press, he discussed the role of cooking in his spiritual life. He shares his gift with each batch of fudge he produces.
The fudge will also be available for a special sale on the first Sunday of Advent after Mass at St. George Church in Newnan.
To purchase the 12-ounce box of the Southern Touch or the maple walnut fudge, visit the Abbey Store in person at 2625 Hwy. 212, SW in Conyers or via the Web site at www.abbeystore.org. These boxes—as well as the chocolate, chocolate nut and seasonal varieties—are available for purchase in half-pound packages at the Abbey Store throughout the year.