June 16, 2014 at 1:00 am

Pure Michigan: Fudge, art, grads

New flavor, familiar view, fresh outlook

Bob Benser Jr. has an audience as he puts a paddle to the initial batch of Michigan Honey Butter Fudge on Mackinac Island. (Hannah Olson / Special to The Detroit News)

We are midway through National Adopt a Cat Month and National Accordion Awareness Month. Since I’m vulnerable to peer pressure, I’m rooting for the homeless cats and I will try hard to not run over any accordions.

Also according to NationalDayCalendar.com, National Fudge Day began at midnight.

The archivists at National Day Calendar, conveniently located in Mandan, North Dakota, don’t know exactly how June 16 came to be devoted to fudge. Call me cynical, but I suspect the Mackinac Island Chamber of Commerce had something to do with it.

Fudge has become as much a piece of Pure Michigan as Petoskey stones, and it’s lots easier to eat. According to Travel Michigan, more than 10,000 pounds of it leaves Mackinac every day.

Heaven knows how much stays there, tucked away for safekeeping in people’s stomachs. And of course, that doesn’t cover the fudge from sellers below the bridge, but still high on the map, like Kilwins in all the standard resort cities and 45th Parallel’s Candy World in Suttons Bay.

At 45th Parallel’s, owner Tim Lambdin said his plan for the fudge commemoration was simple. “We’re selling fudge that day.”

On the island, at The Original Murdick’s Fudge, owner Bob Benser Jr. made more of a fuss. He’s introducing a flavor he doesn’t think has been concocted anywhere before:

Michigan Honey Butter.

It’s very nearly pure Michigan, Benser said, with 93 percent in-state ingredients. That includes more than 100 pounds of honey from Hardy Honey Bee Farms in Sterling Heights that he personally hauled northward for the first batches.

It sounds splendid. Knowing me, though, I’d be happy even if he honored a different calendar listing and made fudge out of accordions.

But probably not cats.

Artworks and awe

OK, that’s a Pure Michigan delicacy. For a couple of Pure Michigan places and a wonderfully Pure Michigan reaction, meet the Burkes.

Tim Burke is a sculptor who’s had a studio for years in the heart of the Heidelberg Project.

Last month, he was invited to install a few of his pieces at the Michigan Legacy Art Park, a glorious 30-acre preserve adjoining the Crystal Mountain resort in Thompsonville.

The Art Park has a 1 ˝-mile hiking trail through the woods, and also some space at the resort where Burke placed a trio of robotic figures made from fighter jet parts, missile drive gears and gauges scavenged from abandoned warehouses in Detroit.

He was so impressed with the area that when he came back a few weeks later to erect a sculpture along the trail, he brought his wife and their 4-year-old daughter.

At the suggestion of Art Park executive director Renee Hintz, the family took a 20-mile side trip to the Lake Michigan shore in Frankfort — where Emily began to sob.

“Poppa,” she explained, “I’m crying happy tears, because I didn’t know anything could be this beautiful.”

In case Travel Michigan would like Emily to re-create that moment with cameras rolling, I’m sure she’ll work cheap — maybe even for fudge.

Uncommon wisdom

In this season of wise, distinguished and frequently famous people delivering commencement addresses, my favorite passages come from a 14-year-old in Grosse Pointe.

Granted, Julia Rapai is not your average incoming freshman in terms of public speaking. She recently finished third at a statewide Optimist Club competition where the other finalists were high school seniors.

Not surprisingly, she was asked to deliver one of two student addresses as the eighth-graders said goodbye to Pierce Middle School.

“Adults will tell you high school is the prime of your life,” she said, “but if graphing a polynomial function or writing an essay about ‘The Odyssey’ at 3 a.m. is the prime of your life, you’ve obviously done something very wrong.”

No one, she pointed out, “ever changed the world by recalling the 31st president or simplifying radical equations.”

So learn to learn, she said, and learn to apply that knowledge. Win and lose, laugh and cry, soar and struggle.

And don’t forget to stop and smell the fudge.

(313) 222-1874

Tim Burke installs one of his works in a spot at Crystal Mountain overseen ... (Felicia Seeburger / Special to The Detroit News)
Julia Rapai of Grosse Pointe gave a memorable address to her eighth-grade ... (Bill Rapai / Special to The Detroit News)