Love it or hate it, fruitcake is here to stay
Its origins will amaze you
Anna May Kinney
Here we go again, time for all those "I hate fruitcake jokes" to begin. Honestly, I am not ashamed to say, "I love fruitcake". Maybe it is something genetic, maybe just good taste.
Thousands of years before the white man ever thought of sailing the oceans in search of new land, my ancestors were making their version of this tasty cake. The old fashioned pemmican was a mixture of venison or buffalo jerky, which was pounded into a powder, then mixed with chopped, or pounded nuts, seeds, dried fruit and suet.
This mixture kept safely for months, could easy be taken on hunting expeditions, and often, during harsh winters, after all other food supplies ran out, the simple pemmican was there to provide nourishment until the arrival of spring, saving many lives.
Fruitcake was probably man's first high-energy snack food. These homemade morsels were even taken along on the Crusades. It may well be one thing that soldiers everywhere had in common.
Can you imagine southern mothers wrapping up little packages of pecan fruitcake, tucking them into the pockets of their son's jackets as they left for battle during the Civil war?
While the oldest reference to fruitcakes dates back to Roman times, when the recipe included pomegranate seeds, pine nuts and raisins mixed into barley mash, almost every civilization had it's own way of preserving local fruit and nuts into a type of cake.
During the Middle Ages sweet ingredients were added, such as honey and spices, along with preserved fruits.
Fruitcake is an ancient cake whose history is as full of lore and rumor as actual fact, in history, its consumption is related to a more complex and symbolic function. In Europe in the 1700's, a ceremonial type of fruitcake was baked at the end of the nut harvest and consumed the following year to celebrate the beginning of the next harvest.
In England by the end of the 18th century there were laws restricting the use of plum cake (plum being the generic word for dried fruit at the time) to Christmas, Easter, weddings, christenings, and funerals. During the Victorian era (1837-1901), fruitcake was popular-- Queen Victoria received a fruitcake for her birthday one year, and legend has it, she put it aside for a year as a sign of restraint, moderation, and good
taste. It is still the custom in England for unmarried wedding guests to put a slice of the cake, traditionally a dark fruitcake, under their pillow at night so they will dream of the person they will marry.
In 1913, in Corsicana, Texas the first fruitcake mail order business took off when the Ringling Brothers Circus came to town. The circus executives were so impressed with the local fruitcake (a recipe imported from Germany in the late 1800's) that they ordered them for friends around the country as Christmas gifts.
Maybe people today dislike fruitcake because so many of them are mass-produced, and lack the taste and flavours that made them so popular with our ancestors. Nothing beats a fruitcake made from scratch with pure natural dried fruit. When they are made with love and care, they are indeed a healthy, high-energy snack.
A good fruitcake needs to be made and cured for a month before eating it. So this is the perfect time to bake them for the holidays. Here are a couple of my favorite recipes, hope you enjoy.
2 cups golden raisins
2 cups dried apricots, coarsely chopped
2 cups dates, coarsely chopped
2 cups pecans, coarsely chopped
2 cups Brazil nuts, coarsely chopped
2 cups walnuts, coarsely chopped
½ cup Honey
¼ cup water
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 cup butter, softened
1 ¼ cups brown sugar, packed
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon mace
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
In a large bowl, combine the fruit, nuts, honey, water and lemon juice; set aside. In a medium mixing bowl, cream butter, sugar and eggs, mixing well. Fold sugar mixture into fruit mixture. Sift dry ingredients and gradually fold into the fruit mixture until evenly coated.
Pour into 2 greased and waxed paper-lined 9 x 5 x 3-inch loaf pans. Place a shallow pan of water in the bottom of the oven. Set cakes in oven at 275 degrees F. for about 2 ½ hours or until cake tests done. Cover with foil during the last 30 minutes. Cool 10 minutes: remove to wire rack to cool completely. Remove waxed paper and wrap each cake in foil. Place in plastic bags and store
in a cool dry place.
¾ cup butter
2 cups sugar
3 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon allspice
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon cinnamon
4 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon baking soda
2/3 cup cherry preserves
2/3 cup apricot preserves
2/3 cup pineapple preserves
1 cup chopped pecans
½ teaspoon vanilla
In a large bowl, cream together butter, sugar and eggs. Sift together flour and spices. Add soda to buttermilk and add to butter mixture alternating with flour mixture. Gently fold in the preserves, nuts and vanilla.
Pour into a greased and floured angel food tube pan. Bake at 325 F. for about 1 ½ hours or till cake tests done. Cool for 15 minutes after removing from oven. Sprinkle with sifted confectioner's sugar.
HOME MADE CHRISTMAS CANDY
Until the Christmas I am going to try and put some of my favorite holiday recipes here each week, hope you enjoy;
1 dozen peppermint candy canes
2 pounds white chocalate (crushed into 1/4 inch pieces)
1/2 teaspoon natural peppermint flavoring
Brake up the white chocolate and place in the top of a double boiler, place over medium heat and the water in the lower half of the double boiler should be simmering gently. Stir the chopped candy cane pieces and the peppermint flavoring into the melted chocolate.
Line an 11 X 17 baking pan with either parchment paper or wax paper, pour chocolate mixture onto pan, spread evenly and chill till firm. Break into pieces and refrigerate until ready to package up as gifts or serving.
Caramel Flavored Peanut or Almond Brittle
2 cups either chopped peanuts or almonds
or mix a cup of each
1 cup molasses
1 cup sugar
In a 2 quart heavy pan, heat sugar while stirring, add molasses and cook until sugar is dissolved. Add vanilla, the sugar should start to smell like caramel within five minutes from starting. Add nut and stir in well, cooking for one more minute. You need to really watch this mixture does not begin to burn. Spread mixture quickly on a well greased baking sheet and roll
with a slightly oiled rolling pin to about 1/4 inch thick. Let cool, break into pieces. Store refirgerated in an air tight can.
For MORE great recipes check these pages. Plus take a look at Anna May's Cookbook "One World, One Family, Many Recipes"
The following recipes are not in the cookbook: