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
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
- Place all of the ingredients in a large mixing bowl and toss well.
- Cover with a tea towel and leave to soak over night.
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
1 cup fancy molasses
1 cup cold tea
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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]
- 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.
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!
Thanks for reading.