Granny’s Christmas fruitcake
By Missy Schenck
Who makes fruitcakes anymore? They weigh 100 pounds and cost $50 to make, yet they are one of those holiday traditions that continue to pass on from generation to generation. My great-grandmother’s recipe haunts our family. It’s not exactly comfort food — you either like it or you don’t. It’s loaded with whiskey and ferments in the basement until it is ripe. The historic Christmas cake is actually edible for up to 25 years after it is made!
It’s a process to make a fruitcake. It takes weeks rather than hours for the results. My mother always began about a month before Christmas. When the ingredients hit the stores, she would gather her resources and set aside an entire day to prepare the cake. Packed with candied fruit and plenty of pecans gathered from our yard, once cooked Mama would wrap the cake in cheesecloth soaked in whiskey and store it in the basement. Each week, she would open the container and give the cake a good splash and close it up again.
There are two kinds of fruitcakes — dark or light. Granny’s recipe was for a dark fruitcake and is the kind I prefer to eat. Her fruitcake bowl, approximately 150-plus years old, has passed down along with her recipe and now resides at my house. A large brown pottery bowl with a lid, the vessel serves as both a container for making the fruitcake and as a storage unit while fermenting. Throughout the years Granny’s recipe was adapted for cooking in a modern stove as opposed to a wood stove. Her measurements call for a teacup or a large coffee cup of ingredients — your guess to their exact size is as good as mine.
Fruitcakes mark the beginning of the holiday season that is accompanied by tradition and family. It is a popular holiday gift that most of us dread receiving. Although fruitcake has received a bad reputation throughout the years, it dates back to a food enjoyed by ancient Romans called satura — a mix of barley, pomegranate seeds, nuts and raisins held together with honey. The American version of the cake comes from a long line of British holiday and wedding celebrations when the cake was called Christmas cake or plum cake.
Christmas is a time of year that is good for the human spirit. This year, everyone could use a dose of something special. Cooking and baking conjure up a plethora of memories that do the heart good — so, pull out those recipes and look for the happiness you felt as child at Christmas.
It’s still there – the proof is in the fruitcake.