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« Boiled Custard Recipe (John Ballard) | Main | End of the line »

December 01, 2012

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John, I am your kindred soul when it comes to fruitcake. I too never understand the jokes about this really nice piece of Christmas confection. My weakness for fruitcake also originated in childhood. We did not celebrate Christmas although the day is observed as a national holiday in India. On New Year's Day however, we always had a big feast to which many friends and relatives were invited. My father, an excellent cook, made dinner and on his way back from work the day before, he would stop by at a bakery (established during the British era) to buy cakes and pastries. There would be several varieties but there was always a fruit cake, a standard 10" round one full of dried fruits and nuts. I loved its sweet and slightly bitter taste. From what I can now recall of that most excellent cake, the Indian bakers probably did not use quite so much rum as the fruit cake I buy every year in the US from a monastery in Kentucky. Also, there was a lot of walnuts along with almonds. Perhaps everything tastes better on a younger palate but I have never tasted any fruitcake that was as delicious as the one my father brought home evey New Year.

I like fruitcake too, in small doses like the 2x4 inch slices that used to come individually wrapped in the bakeries of my hometown.
Every Christmas, some of our Christian neighbors would take out a small parade through the neighborhood, lustily yelling out the lyrics to "We wish you a Merry Christmas", with a scraggly teen wearing a red shirt, Santa hat and a cotton wool beard leading it. They would always hand out little fruitcakes to every household that came out to watch the parade.
Yummy treat, and alas, now bygone tradition.
I will most certainly try out the recipe, John, and the custard too!

I'm a day into the recipe now. It took a long time to chop and measure all that fruit, plus I couldn't find any currants. I think I may have bought the last box in Cherokee County last year so I put in an additional three cups of dates, candied pineapple and dried mango. This recipe is also expensive compared with our typical food budget.

When I went to the package store to get rum the bottles didn't print clearly how many fluid ounces were in the bottle, so one of the clerks looked at a chart and told me the one I got was twenty-four and some ounces. I was delighted it happened to be exactly what the recipe called for. When I emptied the bottle into the gallon jar with the fruit it seemed to be a lot more than it needed to be, but I figured it would soak up in the dried fruit. (That's what I remember from when I did the recipe about twenty-five years ago.)

Well, this morning I got suspicious. I got the empty bottle, filled it with water and measured it to be well over four cups, easily far too much. So I carefully held the fruit and recovered the excess rum, now wonderfully flavored by all those dried fruits, and funneled it into a nearly-empty brandy bottle which was down to less than an ounce. I now have a wonderful reserve of spiced rum with all those fruit flavors and a taste of brandy waiting for the next bowl of vanilla ice-cream (or, you guessed it, boiled custard!)

Too much on my plate today for more and tomorrow I have an assignment, so making and cooking the cakes will likely be Tuesday. Will keep you posted.

I really enjoyed this John, thank you. Many years ago, during a stay at my Aunt and Uncle's house, I was privileged enough to try some Jamaican fruitcake. My Uncle was a teacher for deaf children and his job entailed frequent house visits. The house he most liked to visit, was that of a little girl whose West Indian father made the most phenomenal dark fruitcake and who always insisted my Uncle take some home with him. The reverent treatment of the cake you've described immediately resonated. My Uncle had hidden it from the rest of the family and brought it out for us with a kind of grinning exhilaration that a new culinary student might display when holding their first black truffle. He cut two decent slices and added slivers of a really fine salty aged cheddar, then poured us glasses of stout. No exaggeration, it is one of my happiest eating experiences ever. Please keep us updated on how this recipe goes, because I'll have to try it.

Having an English mother exposed me to Christmas pudding early and I love the stuff. The anti-fruitcake thing is really a product of ignorance i think, or exposure to appalling supermarket versions. I once found myself tending bar on Christmas eve and decided I would bring in a pudding that I'd made (my granny's recipe). At midnight, I presented the pudding on the bar, killed the lights, doused it in brandy and flamed it. I then began serving it and of course there was the one guy who said "I don't actually like fruitcake". I explained that he was insulting me and had better try some. Of course he then really liked it and mentioned that he'd never had anything resembling it.

Can anyone come up with any silly unexamined biases in the savory world? Anchovies are the only thing I can think of.

Ah, the lowly anchovy! Another jokey food that I love. When sharing a communal pizza with people with disparate tastes, I am okay as long as I can get some anchovy on side to add to my slice.

Jesse, your mention of food biases reminds me of a few items that (like fruitcake, maybe) have gone out of favor. When I first started in the cafeteria business we had several menu items that were on the way out. Tomato aspic is the first I recall. It was on the display when I started in the mid-Seventies but sales were slipping and by the end of the decade it was no longer taking up space. Like many other products we still had the recipe on file but those files were almost never purged of obsolete recipes.

I saw recipes to make apple jelly from the peelings of apples left when apples were prepared for pies, for "cookies" which could be made on sheet pans only to be ground up to make cheesecake crusts, sausage made from scratch, Virginia spoon-bread, noodles made from scratch, etc. And we made mayonnaise and buttermilk from scratch until the late Eightes. (To make buttermilk we put five pounds of dry milk powder into five gallons of luke-warm water, whipped it together, poured in a gallon of dairy buttermilk and let it sit at room temperature overnight. Used for cornbread, biscuits and batters for the kitchen -- fried fish, chicken, cutlets, etc.)

Sliced ham was obligatory for Sundays and it was always served with raisin sauce, but the sauce vanished during the early Nineties. Raisin pie was also on the dessert display but that lost favor as well. (I love raisins but apparently they had a public relations failure I never saw.) Which reminds me of mincemeat pie, another seasonal favorite that vanished. Fresh fruit salads were usually displayed with a choice of plain (pineapple juice to keep them moist) or with poppy seed dressing which was delightful but also went the way of raisin sauce for sliced ham. And finally, hot banana pudding was the most popular dessert I ever served but only because I only offered it once a week... but I never see it now because it takes too much trouble to monitor it, getting it off the display when the bananas turn brown or the meringue gets weepy. A great loss, because any that fails the public cosmetics test can still be made into delicious banana muffins... But that's become part of an old retired cafeteria manager's memory file.

Meantime, to update the fruitcake, the two loaf pans came out fine after about three hours of slow cooking in a big pan of shallow water. After the cooled it would have been criminal to wrap them up for a month without a little taste, so with a very sharp slicing knife I cut about an inch and a half off one end and wrapped the rest up to be out of sight, out of mind until Christmas. The sample was cut into finger food chunks which were still very wet and to my surprise still tasted of spirits. But the flavor profile was great. Some of the fruits were still hard despite soaking and cooking. I think the almonds, figs and some of the dried mango may have been harder than I expected, but now, four days later, they seem to be softening.

In the same way that I serve boiled custard in little disposable paper cups, I rather like putting the fruitcake out as finger food instead of cake-type slices. I can't stand to see people either eating more than they want out of a misplaced sense of courtesy, or worse, leaving half a piece to be tossed. I have a higher level of tolerance for ignorance than waste. Besides, any food that takes a lot of time and trouble deserves rationing, no matter how good it might be.

Ruchira, I was unable to leave this comment at your farewell message so I'm putting it here. When I saw that title of your yet unpublished post I had a strong suspicion what was about to happen. Actually you are only following a technological sea change that has been going on for some time and I, for one, completely understand. My earlier comment reflecting on the many menu items I once served but are now forgotten turns out to have been something of a prologue to this ending. This now makes three places on the Web that I have carved into a tree or two. I sometimes fantasize that at some distant time curiosity may drive one of my heirs in future generations to make a forensic trip into the past, chasing the rabbit holes found by search engines. Heck, I can already imagine an app for that! I did that with genealogy during my high school days and it was great fun. (I even discovered to their surprise that my parents were fourth cousins who shared a common fourth great-grandmother. That's not a problem since we all have 64 great-great-great-great grandparents and very few of us even know who they all were.) But I digress...

Many thanks for your kind invitation and what has turned out to be a very good visit. Thanks to Facebook and the 3Quarks community we will continue to be in touch. This is a good place for that great line at the end of Casablanca -- I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

http://youtu.be/5kiNJcDG4E0

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