(May she rest in peace and wake up in time for Jeopardy)
The holidays are here again. It’s the time of year when families gather ’round the fireplace and reminisce over a tasty slice of fruitcake. Johnny Carson famously quipped that there is only one fruitcake in the world, and everyone keeps passing it on to each other.
Fruitcakes have been around (some literally) since the time of the Roman Empire, but increased in popularity during the 16th century when inexpensive sugars from the Americas led to a proliferation of candied fruits. Apparently, Baroque-era Europeans had no self-control when it came to sweets and burning heretics at the stake. Traditionally, fruitcakes are soaked in spirited liquors as a way of improving their taste. My great uncle Sal marinates his liver in vodka highballs for the same reason, though brown liquors are preferred for fruitcakes. Some of the best domestic fruitcakes are produced by the Trappist monks of the Abbey of Gethsemani near Louisville, Kentucky, who stew their cakes in everything from brandy to bourbon. I looked it up and, stunningly, this violates no commandment. Giving your parents a fruitcake for Christmas, however, violates at least one.
Actually, my mom makes a fantastic fruitcake. With her permission, I have included the recipe for it below. In all seriousness, Mom was a little apprehensive when I asked her for the recipe. It calls for generous amounts of brandy and she would hate for people to get the wrong idea about her drinking habits. I can assure my readers, though, that my mother has touched liquor only twice in her life: once from June 3rd, 1962 to September 18th 1984, and again later that afternoon to present, but that’s it. Just kidding, Mom—you’re a great sport and your Yahtzee skills are unparalleled.
The best feature of Mom’s fruitcake is that she uses unsulphured dried fruits in place of more traditional candied fruits. When I was a kid, she’d always say that candied fruits would rot my teeth and give me diabetes, then hand me a giant slice of brandy soaked fruitcake and warn me to stay away from open flames. All of the ingredients for this recipe can be found in the Co-op’s bulk aisle with the possible exception of the brandy, depending on that shift’s Manager-On-Duty.
Preheat oven to 300ºF. Grease a 9 x 5-inch pan and line bottom with wax paper.
Mix the following ingredients in a large bowl:
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
Add and mix thoroughly:
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups chopped almonds
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans
1/2 cup chopped dates
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 cup chopped (quartered) figs
1 cup chopped unsulphured dried apricots
In a small bowl, beat thoroughly:
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
Directions: Pour the egg mixture over the dry ingredients and mix with your hands until the fruit & nuts are well-coated. Scrape batter into the pan and spread evenly. Bake until the top is golden brown, about 1 1/2 hours.
As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, pour your favorite brandy (Mom likes Korbel) over the still hot fruitcake until well moistened. If you don’t like brandy, you can substitute with bourbon or wine, or just drink the bourbon or wine until you like brandy. Mom says that most fruitcakes can handle their liquor, so don’t be polite about it. Once the cake’s whistle has been thoroughly wetted, wrap it in plastic and store in a cool dry place away from Great Uncle Sal. Fruitcakes should be made at least a month before they are intended to be served, and even 3 or 4 months is great. Mom recommends unwrapping the fruitcake once a week and brushing it with more liquor. She also “remoistens” the cake just before serving, and if the guest is extra important, dusts it with powdered sugar as a final touch.