I have a confession to make. I am a fruitcake lover. Fruitcake jokes strike me as tired gestures of small minds which have run out of meaningful content.
My love of fruitcake has roots in childhood when on special of occasions beloved family members or close friends broke out a few home-made versions which were served in too-small rationed portions, always leaving me wanting more than I was allowed.
Two such occasions remain fresh in my memory. The first was when I was about eleven years old, visiting with my parents an elderly woman of my grandparents generation one Sunday afternoon. After a little while she invited us to have a taste of her holiday fruitcake. It was so big it must have been from a recipe I'll tell about shortly, but it was by then over half gone, with evidence that it had been taken away a morsel at a time, leaving behind a crumbling ruin. It would never make a good magazine picture but it was delightful to see, a damaged tube cake under an old cotton towel, stained with whatever spirits kept it damp, with a dried up old half an apple or two in the opening of the tube. My Dad said that Gladys Maupin's black fruitcake was better than anyone else's and when she told people what was in it she never seemed to tell the same thing twice. It was so crumbly I at it with my fingers, but either the flavor or the occasion has remained in my memory.
The second was years later when our girls were involved with gymnastics. The last surviving aunt on my mother's side, an avid sports fan in her eighties, lived two hours away where a state-wide meet was being hosted. When we went by her apartment afterward she discretely invited me into her kitchen for a taste of her holiday fruitcake which by then was at least three months old. She had it wrapped carfully and hidden under a drop-leaf table in the kitchen and obviously didn't let anybody have any unless they were worthy in her judgment. I don't recall the cake as much as the occasion and the way it was treated, almost like a religious relic.
Jamaica Spiced Black Fruitcake Recipe
By : The New York Times Cookbook
- 3 1/4 cups dried currants
- 2 1/4 cups seedless raisins
- 2 cups seeded raisins, chopped
- 1 1/4 cups sliced citron
- 1 1/2 cups dried figs, chopped
- 1 cup cooked and drained dried prunes, pitted and chopped
- 1 1/2 cups blanched whole almonds, toasted and sliced
- 1 cup chopped, pitted dried dates
- 1 cup glazed whole cherries, sliced
- 1/2 cup glazed orange peel, chopped
- 3 cups dark Jamaica rum
- 1 cup butter
- 2 cups dark brown sugar, firmly packed
- 1 1/2 teaspoons each, cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg
- 5 large eggs
- 2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
Prepare the fruits and almonds and mix well. Stir in the rum and allow to soak one week.
Preheat oven to slow (275 degrees). Soften the butter in a large mixing bowl and gradually blend in the sugar and spices. Beat in two of the eggs. Sift the flour with the baking powder and salt and add one cup to the butter mixture. Beat in the remaining eggs, stir in the rum-soaked fruit, undrained, and add the remaining flour. Mix well.
Line two greased 9 x 5 x 3 inch loaf pans with brown or waxed paper and grease the paper lightly. Divide the batter equally between the two pans. Place a large shallow pan of hot water beneath the cake pans in the oven to prevent the cake from drying.
Bake the cake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 2 1/2 hours. Cool in the loaf pans one hour. Remove to a wire rack, remove the paper and let rest until cold.
Wrap in aluminum foil and store in a tightly closed tin box. Moisten occasionally with Jamaican rum. Age at least one month before serving.
What we call cake is not really a cake. American fruitcake is our version of what the Brits call Christmas Pudding. The difference, of course, is that cakes are baked but this product is typically steamed, then dried in a hot oven.
Now about that first story about a really big fruitcake. We have a family fruitcake recipe that is truly mammoth. I made half a recipe one year and it was enough for two tube pans and two or three loaf pans. When I asked my mother about why is was so large she said it was used for a really big custom-made pan that was passed around the community in Madison County, Kentucky. It was a farm community and everybody had a canning pot big enough for a large number of quart jars. It must have been about two feet in diameter and deep enough for the jars, with a lid that made it into a pressure cooker.
Someone made a giant pan, probably a tube-type (I never saw it), by cutting and welding the pieces at a local repair shop. I don't want to know what the level of heavy metals may have been in the welded seams, but I'm sure just using it once a year helped not getting a toxic dose. Early in the fall the pan would be used by any household that wanted it. It was passed around as community property but had fallen out of use before I was born.
At this writing I have cut the fruit for this recipe and it fills a gallon jar. It's too close to Christmas for me to soak for a week and rest for three more. But I'm sure there will be plenty left to age when the New Year arrives. I made this recipe about thirty years ago and my memory is that we enjoyed it. In case it doesn't turn out perfect I can always drown it in boiled custard and force myself to eat it anyway. What could possibly go wrong?