From the kitchen: Fruitcake still part of holiday tradition

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By Elli Rarick

Last week I emphasized the importance of starting holiday baking early and being prepared before you start. If you follow these two guidelines, your time spent in the kitchen will be enjoyable and you will have delicious offerings to show for it.

Those of my generation probably still do make the traditional fruitcake from recipes passed down to us from past generations more than our children and grandchildren certainly do. I do not believe any of my family has picked up the fruitcake torch and will be carrying it on for our family. I am not certain any of them even like fruitcake, but maybe there will be one that will come forth and carry on this tradition when I stop doing it.

My mother always served fruitcake at Christmas while I was growing up, though I do not know for sure where it came from. I do know that it was not something made by my parents or grandparents.

When Jim and I married in 1962, I learned how to make fruitcake from my mother-in-law. She willingly shared her recipe and any special instructions. It seemed pretty simple and I knew this was something Jim really liked. I have never even tried another recipe because I liked this one then and still do. Once I asked Jim?s mother where she got her recipe and she said, ?I just found one in a cookbook and left out any ingredients my family disliked.? I am still using her handwritten copy given to me those many years ago.

I found that original recipe in a ?Ladies Home Companion? cookbook which I now have. In later years, Jim?s dad took over the baking of the holiday fruitcake and whenever I am making mine, Jim recounts watching his dad preparing this annual treat well in advance of the holiday season. I do it somewhat differently than Jim?s dad did in as much as I do not wrap my cakes in cloth and soak them in brandy. He would then wrap them in foil and store them in a cool cupboard (which was not hard to do in Michigan at this time of the year) until it was time to slice and serve.

I have almost always made my fruitcakes in my regular bread (loaf) pans or the small individual loaf pans. Of course, they may be baked in a tube pan if you prefer to have a round cake. I line my pans with wax paper (parchment paper will work also) before putting the cake batter in. Baking the cakes right in the paper helps to keep the cake very moist during storage and you get the additional bonus of easy clean-up of the pans. Once the cakes are baked and cooled, I wrap each one in clear plastic wrap followed by heavy duty foil. I then like to place my loaves in the freezer bags since I store mine in the freezer. I have found that it takes very little time to thaw a cake out so that it can be sliced and served so having it frozen is not a problem. After thawing, it can be stored in the refrigerator for up to three months. I keep mine frozen for up to one year.

If you prefer to store your fruitcakes the more traditional way, purchase round or rectangular tins to place them in. It is important to store them in a cool place if possible. I have also heard of using large tins (like those popcorn come in) where you can wrap several in cloth and pour grape juice or brandy over each one, stacking them on top of each other and covering for storage. Since I don?t care to soak mine, the freezer is my choice. My fruitcakes have always been very moist and fresh tasting, even a year later.

I like to give fruitcakes as gifts as well as serve at special dinners and gatherings. A large loaf fruitcake will slice nicely into 12-14 regular slices. I then will cut the slices in half and sometimes even thirds as many times those selecting desserts from a buffet prefer something that is only a few bites. This is also a great way to include this holiday tradition on a platter with several other dessert items. I have found it best not to give whole fruitcakes to everyone when using them for gifts. The individual size loaves work well for this.

Fruitcakes are easy to make but do take a lot of preparation of the ingredients. As you will notice in the recipe below, there is a lot of chopping to do of nuts and fruits. Many recipes only use one kind of nut; this one has three different kinds. I used to chop the dates myself but now buy them ready to measure and add. I still do chop the cherries and pineapple as we prefer smaller pieces in our cakes.

I would suggest that you purchase all necessary ingredients and plan an afternoon or evening to do your chopping. All of the fruits and nuts may be mixed and stored in the refrigerator in one container once they are chopped. The more of the preparation you can do ahead of the actual baking day, the better. Once again, planning and preparation will make this an enjoyable experience. And, get the kids involved; let each one be responsible for a part of the prep work as well as on baking day, keeping in mind age appropriateness for the task.

Fruit Cake

Mary Rarick

2 cups seedless raisins

1 cup dates, chopped

8 oz. candied cherries, sliced

8 oz. candied pineapple, sliced

1 cup pecans, chopped

1 cup black walnuts, chopped

1 cup English walnuts, chopped

1/3 cup flour for dredging

1 ?1/3 cups flour for sifting

1/4 teaspoon soda

one teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon allspice

1/4 teaspoon mace

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

two-thirds cup soft margarine or butter

two-thirds cup brown sugar, firmly packed

4 eggs, separated

1/3 cup molasses

3 tablespoons of brandy, wine or cider

3 tablespoons fruit juice

two-thirds cup strawberry preserves

Prepare fruit and nuts; dredge with dredging flour, sift mixing flour; add soda and spices, sift again. Cream margarine and sugar until light and fluffy. Add well-beaten egg yokes; beat well. Add molasses, fruit juice, brandy and strawberry preserves; blend thoroughly. Add fruits and nuts. Fold in dry ingredients, adding about 1/3 at a time. Beat egg whites until stiff but not dry; fold into batter. Turn into pans that have been first greased then lined with wax paper; fill pans 3/4 full. Bake in a slow oven (250? F.) 2 hours or until done (toothpick comes out clean). When cooled, may be wrapped in foil and frozen; or in a cloth and soaked in brandy and wrapped in foil, if desired. Yields 2 large loaf pans or 6 individual loaf pans.