Holiday sweets and treats are plentiful, but one old favorite that always comes back is the fruitcake. Vintage House & Garden has more than enough recipes to go around in the December 1968 issue “Superb Holiday Fruitcakes” and December 1969 “Menus and Recipes for Holiday Parties.” We chose our favorites to share along with some great Southern recipes and hospitality: sweet, festive and delicious.
The Perfect Southern Fruitcake
In “Debunking Fruitcake” Rebel Scouts chapter in James Villas “Stalking the Green Fairy and other fantastic adventures in Food & Drink,” Scout talks about two fruitcakes stored in the bottom shelf of his refrigerator: one from 1979 and the other from 1985. Most Southerners know that fruitcake gets better with age, and should be prepared at least a year in advance of serving. He writes: “Although fruitcake can be traced back at least to an ancient Roman baked mixture of dried fruits, seeds, nuts, and the honey wine called Satura - nowhere over the centuries has the cake evolved as an intrinsic part of the culture as it has in the American south. Needless to say, everyone in this country is as familiar with the fruitcake as with meatloaf. If in recent times this confection has become the object of every bad gastronomic joke imaginable, it is only because most Americans, exposed increasingly to little more than those wretched store-bought or mail order products, do not know, or have forgotten, what great fruit cake taste like. The sad predicament applies as much to our professional chefs as to most home cooks, which I suppose is why, disgracefully, the last item you can expect to find on restaurant dessert menus is some form of fruitcake.”
In Edna Lewis’s “The Taste of Country Cooking” she explains that “preparing the cake became a festive occasion, and almost as exciting as Christmas itself. In selecting the ingredients for the fruitcake, it is best to buy a few important items such as citron, seeded raisins, and candied peel in late December for the following Christmas. The freshest ingredients come into the market too late to make an aged cake. The special fruits can be kept perfectly well in a cool, dry place (not a refrigerator) until its time to make the cake. The same care should be taken with spices. Cinnamon from Ceylon is much more delicate and sweet than the other bark that is found today at most fancy food places. Fruitcake is so special and lasts so long that only the best ingredients should be used in it.”
2 cups (1 pound) butter
2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups soft brown sugar (not brownulated)
10 medium sized eggs, well beaten
1 cup unsulphured molasses
1 cup grape jelly
1 cup blackberry wine
2 teaspoons freshly ground Ceylon cinnamon
2/3 nutmeg, grated
2 teaspoons freshly ground mace
2 teaspoons freshly ground allspice
1 teaspoon freshly ground cloves
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
8 cups sifted unbleached flour
4 teaspoons Royal Baking Powder
2 pounds seeded muscat raisins (seed by hand preferably)
2 pounds seedless dark raisins
1 pound citron, sliced thin and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 pound currants
1/2 pound each candied orange and lemon peel (can be made at home)
2 cups rum or old brandy
2 10-inch tube pans, greased and lined with uncontaminated brown paper well-greased on both sides.
Cream the butter and sugars until light. Add beaten eggs and mix well while stirring in molasses, jelly, and wine. Stir in spices, vanilla and flour with baking powder added. Add in the fruit bit by bit, stirring well after each addition. When well mixed, spoon the batter into the tube pans. Fill three quarters full and set the pans in an odorless, cold place for two days. Then set the cake batter into a preheated oven that ranges between 250 and 300 degress for four hours. Remove from oven and cool in pans. When cold, remove from pans and leave cakes encased in paper wrapping; store in clean, dry tins or wooden boxes. (Any container OTHER than plastic.) Lace the cakes beginning in early December once a week with ½ cup rum or old brandy. Lace for 4 weeks. Keep the containers covered.
Edible Ornaments are a Holiday favorite and a great way to get the kids involved: Stud oranges with cloves, pull strong wire through orange, and knot at the bottom. As oranges are heavy, hang near trunk. Secure to branch with wire…. Wrap candied apples in cellophane and tie with ribbon. Wire apple stick and set on top of branch, securing wire to tree…. Make 1/4 –inch holes in top of GINGERBREAD MEN before baking. If hole closes in baking, recut while still warm. Decorate with icing…. Punch FLOWER and CRESCENT COOKIES with holes as for gingerbread men. Sprinkle crescents with colored sugars, and flowers with silver balls and red hots before baking. To make COOKIE STAR knead extra flour into basic sugar cookie dough, roll the dough about ¼-inch thick, and cut a star outline in it 6 to 7 inches wide. Stud with silver balls and bake the cookie until it is golden brown. Who wouldn’t love an edible Christmas tree?!
Bon appétit & Merry Christmas!
The Taste of Country Cooking, By Edna Lewis (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1976)
Stalking the Green Fairy and other Fantastic Adventures in Food and Drink, By James Villas (John Wiley & Sons, Inc. New Jersey, 2004)
House & Garden: “Superb Holiday Fruitcakes,” December 1968
House & Garden: “Menus and Recipes for Holiday Parties,” December 1969