Christmas fruitcake – one hundred year old family recipe

It snowed. We’ve gone from gardening in shirtsleeves to frantically trying to find matching gloves in one day! The upside; it’s time to make my Christmas fruitcake.

I heard your gasp. “Christmas is almost two months away. Why are you making fruitcake now?”

Simple. Fruitcake needs time to mellow. The mellowing process is called ripening. Fruitcake needs at least one month to ripen. I prefer to give my fruitcake two months.

Growing up, fruitcake was the only holiday sweet that I’d leave on the party platter. It often looked dry and, on the rare occasion when I did take a nibble, I found the taste bitter. The first Christmas that I spent with Ralph, he kept on about his mother’s fruitcake for weeks. When Boxing Day rolled around, all of the Hootons gathered at the family homestead for their annual holiday get-together. The dining room table was literally groaning with desserts. Gingerbread men, shortbread cookies, jam-jams, mincemeat tartlets, caramel corn, cherry cheesecake and, in the middle of all that deliciousness, the dreaded fruitcake.The funny thing was it didn’t look like any fruitcake that I’d ever seen. There was no crusty frosting or almond paste on the outside. The cake part looked dark, rich and moist and the fruit was actually glistening.

True to his word, when the tea was served, Ralph presented me with a slice in front of his mom. I’m going to be honest; had I not liked it, I would have lied through my teeth. There was no way, with all of his family watching, that I was going to gag on their famous Christmas fruitcake!

I picked up a small piece and quickly popped it in my mouth. I figured I’d get it over with in one gulp. I know you know where this is going… The flavour and texture were off the charts! The fruitcake tasted exactly as it looked: just enough moist cake to hold together the luscious fruit.

It turns out, this recipe has been in Ralph’s family for over one hundred years. His great-grandmother, Grammy Price, taught his mom to make it when she was a little girl. Gram was a teetotaler so Ralph’s mom made a few adjustments to the original recipe. I asked her if her grandmother noticed the difference.

“She never said, but she always asked for a second slice…”

For years, Ralph’s mom gave us a whole fruitcake just before the holidays. She’s passed on her grandmother’s fruitcake steamer to me. It’s one of my most cherished gifts. Now, I have the honour and privilege to make fruitcake for her.

So here we go – Christmas 2014. The girls are coming home. They’ve asked to celebrate Coen’s first Christmas at the farm so I have a lot of work to do, starting with Nanny Hooton’s Christmas Fruitcake.

NANNY HOOTON’S FRUITCAKE

Christmas dark fruitcake - one hundred year old recipe

THE FRUIT 

2 lbs red cherries
2 lbs green cherries
2 lbs seeded raisins, separated
2 lbs pitted dates
2 lbs mixed fruit
1 lb pecans
½ – 750 ml bottle inexpensive Port

Christmas dark fruitcake - one hundred year old recipe

THE STEPS:

  • Place all of the ingredients in a large mixing bowl and toss well.
  • Cover with a tea towel and leave to soak over night.

Christmas dark fruitcake - one hundred year old recipe

THE CAKE BATTER

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 ½ cup brown sugar
2/3 cup butter – the original recipe calls for vegetable shortening
8 eggs
1 cup fancy molasses
1 cup cold tea

Christmas dark fruitcake - one hundred year old recipe

THE STEPS:

  • Grease your pans then line them with paper [waxed or parchment] then grease the paper – set aside. I used 2 – 6″ and 2 – 8″ round pans. The cook time stays the same because all of the pans were 2″ deep.

Christmas dark fruitcake - one hundred year old recipe

  • Stir together flour, baking powder, salt, ginger, cloves and cinnamon – set aside.
  • In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and brown sugar until combined.
  • Beat in eggs, one at a time, until well incorporated.

Christmas dark fruitcake - one hundred year old recipe

  • Beat in molasses and cold tea.
  • Fold in flour mixture until completely blended.
  • Add soaked fruit including any Port sitting in the bottom of the bowl. I use my hands because the batter is too heavy for a spoon to handle.

Christmas dark fruitcake - one hundred year old recipe

  • Pour the batter into the prepared pans, full to the top, cover and steam for 2 hours. If you don’t have a fruitcake steamer, place a rack, brick or upside down cake pan on the bottom of a deep stock pot. Fill the stock pot with enough water to reach ¼ of the way up the fruitcake pan.
  • Preheat oven to 300*F

  • Place steamed fruitcake in preheated oven for 1 hour.
  • Remove fruitcake from oven to a cooling rack for 12 hours [TWELVE]

Christmas dark fruitcake - one hundred year old recipe

  • Wrap them in cheesecloth. Sprinkle liberally with Port and seal the cakes in plastic wrap or in plastic storage bags. Once a week, brush the cakes with more Port.

Christmas dark fruitcake - one hundred year old recipe

THE LOVE: Make sure the bowl you’re using to mix the fruit with the cake batter is big enough. You don’t want it slopping all over your counter!

print recipe

Thanks for reading.

  • Meggie

    Beautiful post mama! Xoxox Coen is so excited for his first christmas, but he may have to wait until next year for the fruitcake 😉

    • Thanks Sweetheart! I bet Coen isn’t as excited as we are to celebrate his first Christmas! xoxo

  • Hi Cindy, They are Ralph’s parents. It was taken the day they were married – over 60 years ago…Lovely to hear from you. Good luck with your fruitcake!

    • Cindy McCallum

      I thought so. Ralph looks just like his dad, remarkably so!

      • If you saw Ralph and his mom side by side, you’d be amazed at how much he looks like her.

  • Trish

    wow does this look great!! I came across it on Foodgawker. I am sure you know that down here in the states fruitcake is a joke, but i learned differently when I was in Australia 30 yrs ago – there they are a wonderful dessert, not just for Christmas!! I am going to try this, probably reducing the recipe as there are only 2 of us. The 2 lbs of mixed fruit called for – can I just use any dried fruit? apricots, etc?

    • Hi Trish, there is actually a mixture called ‘mixed fruit’. I’d recommend trying to find it rather than using your own mixture. It has a glaze that’s important to the moisture of the cake. Good luck!

  • Suzy

    Thank you so much for this recipe, Michelle. I have only started to make a ripened fruitcake over the last 3 Christmases, and each year, I end up creating a recipe from about 8 of them, because none of them have the exact taste, texture and richness that I’m looking for, so each year, I have to begin my recipe search anew! I cannot wait to try your recipe verbatim next weekend, so that I can bring this Christmas gift to my in-laws as well. 🙂 Thank you very much for sharing this treasured family tradition with the rest of us!

    A question: I live in the southeastern US, and we love our bourbon. How do you think soaking the fruit in port and basting with bourbon would work out?

    • Hi Suzy, I’m delighted that you’re going to use my family’s recipe. I’m not sure how the bourbon would taste with the Port soaked fruit. Maybe try it on one of the cakes to see which you prefer. I’m curious so please let me know! Good luck…

  • evieg

    Michelle–I made your fruitcake this year. It is the first time I have made fruitcake, and we are loving it. However, it really did make a huge amount and now I am wondering how long it lasts. Can you give me some insight as to if it goes bad at a certain point. Thanks!

    • It does make a lot! The wonderful thing is it will last for years. Wrap it really well in frrezer proof plastic and pop it in the freezer. We’ve eaten fruitcake that was two years old and it was delicious!

    • evieg

      Thank you. I will do that.

  • Wmm Linda Dickson

    Can you tell me what is port?? Please and Thank you

    • Port is a fortified sweet wine from Portugal. It’s easily found in most wine stores.

  • I use roasted unsalted pecans.

  • I steam for 2 hours then bake for one.

  • I am so sorry about my tardy response. I hope this worked out for you!

  • Elizabeth Wright

    This recipe is so much like our old family recipe! Ours calls for whole Brazil nuts as well as the pecans. And as we are teatotalers too and we use orange juice instead of the port! I had a very similar experience to yours when I was first offered this treat! It is still something of a joke to all our children, but we “old timers” thoroughly enjoy it every year!!!