I admit that I might have had a little problem with the traditional candied fruit and cake product. Winter’s culinary ritual perhaps, but show me one who loves fruitcake and I’ll give you ten who don’t. (Or am I way off about this?) Poetic justice happens and when I got married fruitcake was part of the deal, a large family’s holiday favorite. Oh great, I thought. Turned out to be not a problem. At all.
What changed? Solstice brings Roberta’s fruitcake and it’s good enough to savor, to long for, to put on the holiday table, to wrap up in a package for anyone you love. Abundantly endowed with dried apricots, dates, and walnuts this is the fruitcake that’s become tradition in our family. And there’s room for innovation like dried plums from the backyard, dried cranberries or apples, almonds or hazelnuts . . . the character, the beauty of this fruitcake is in its dried fruit and nuts with just a little binder, eggs, flour and sugar, no fat and nothing whatsoever candied.
I know I’m beating the drum, and loudly. Here’s the deal. My mother-in-law, Roberta, found our California Fruitcake recipe in a 1960s Sunset magazine, recognized its potential, made many loaves every Christmas for decades and distributed them widely to her children, friends and family, gradually converting dozens of Pacific Northwesterners to the other side of the fruitcake debate. And I have to say that every one of us is glad to be here, eating fruitcake and liking it, not as a courtesy, but in grateful adulation.
Thanks to Roberta’s culinary tenacity, and Sunset, loaves of fruitcake multiplied, along with our devotion to them. Family tradition now.
The thing about fruitcake in general is that we came to it, well, our ancestors did, out of necessity. Traditionally, fruitcake was a way to savor fruit mid-winter, a way to use whatever had been dried from the previous summer. Fresh strawberries, blueberries, bananas, lemons and oranges are recent winter commodities (and, contribute to a hefty carbon footprint as they’re transported from southern to northern latitudes each winter). A hundred years ago you might have had dried fruit like apples, apricots, cranberries, grapes, peaches or plums preserved from the previous season, walnuts from a neighbor’s tree. Fruitcake was, and is, about using a previous summer’s preserved bounty in winter. Ingredients can be stored on a shelf in the pantry, back then it was the cellar.
Another thing about this fruitcake, OK any fruitcake, is that each slice is an eyeful, a collage, a fruity kaleidoscope of color and curve, a stained glass window of food . . . sigh.
That Sunset magazine’s gone, but each of Roberta’s children has a handwritten copy of the recipe. Culinary legacy is a pretty wonderful thing to pass on and Roberta has. (See Bert’s Brownies in a previous post.) Her children, her friends and cousins make this fruitcake, as will their children, and theirs.
Ingredients: 3/4 C flour/ 1/4 t baking powder, 1/4 t soda, 1/2 t salt/ 3/4 C brown sugar/ 2 C whole, pitted dates/ 1 1/2 C apricots, coarsely chopped/ 3 C walnut halves/ 3 eggs and 1 t vanilla, beaten together until frothy/ Parchment or waxed paper-lined small loaf pans/ Preset oven to 300º. Note that other fruits and nuts may be substituted. The dates, though not a local fruit, provide a rich base.
Directions: Sift flour, BP, soda and salt together/ Mix together with sugar in a large bowl/ Add fruit and nuts, stir together to coat/ Add eggs and vanilla to the fruit and dried ingredients/ It becomes a wonderful gooey mess of mostly fruit and nuts.
Spoon into small loaf pans – 4 very small or 2 larger pans – lined with wax or parchment paper/ Bake at 300º/ Time will vary according to pan size. Original recipe suggests 1 1/2 hours, convection baking requires less time, and a little more than an hour is about right in our oven/ Toothpick testing doesn’t work – you have to take a visual read on the fruitcake, even remove it from the oven for a moment, peel off a corner of the parchment, which I did, take a peak and return to oven if you like/ An hour and fifteen minutes, give or take, works for me/ Remove paper immediately after baking is complete. This is important/ Place on rack to cool/ Slice the fruitcake, savor its beauty and fruity deliciousness. Happy Holidays.
Previously published holiday favorites: