Fruitcake is No Joke

Enough with the jokes about fruitcake. When Elizabeth Moon uses the fruitcake trope in her delightful Trading In Danger she does it so well I have to admire, smile, then chuckle a bit. But I also have to set the record straight about how to make a fruitcake worth the savoring.

First vital point. Do not, whatever else you do, use those artificial candied peels and pineapple sold in tiny expensive plastic tubs at the grocery. Nyet, nein, non, no. You need real peels candied at home. Make sure to use a simple good recipe for the peels like the one in Joy of Cooking or the one in Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook.


With all my long shelves of cookbooks, I still revisit Better Homes again and again. I remember my mother using that cookbook to create marvels out of dubious ingredients while we lived in Nigeria. Sieving the mealworms out of the flour, bashing the baking powder chunks back into powder, oh yes, I think back on those days with lots of nostalgia. I yearned over the colored photos in that ring-bound book, the bright pictures of food we didn’t have available, fantasizing feasts for some future time. But the cookbook was reliable and very little of what it offered ever let us down, and then it was the ingredients that dictated failure. There is nothing to be done for an egg that is even just a tad ‘off’, I can assure you.

Peel your citrus so that you leave as much white of the oranges or grapefruit behind as possible, then cut up the colored peels in slivers. Takes about two hours to simmer up the bits in water about four or five times, draining between, and then candying them in a simple syrup half water to sugar until they almost stick to the pot.

True confession about the candied cherries. Yes, I have used them. Only the red ones– green just doesn’t seem right somehow. But the trick here is to buy them at the end of the holiday season, open the tubs and drench them in a good brandy, then put them away until the next season of fruitcake baking. If you remember, turn them once a month. If you still cringe at the idea of using such an artificial product, you are excused. I am a peasant at heart and there are some things that resonate from my past that make a preserved cherry doctored in this way, acceptable. You may now sneer.

Onwards to the cake. I strongly recommend the Better Homes and Gardens recipe for dark fruitcake. Even to the use of orange concentrate– here I use an organic type that is pure fruit. Dark molasses, Brer Rabbit if you can. I line my tins with waxed paper, and spray with a baker’s spray or oil. And fresh ground spices if possible.

Be sure that when you come to mix in the raisins, peels, orange and molasses combination, that it has cooled. I often pour it out on a cookie pan to cool it faster, because I am always making my cakes late. In fact it’s time for me to go stir it up. I’ll be back.

The loaves of fruitcake are in the oven at 275 Farenheit now. You know, fruitcake batter would make a superb glue. Frustrating to get off the spatula, out of the bowl then into the pans. Like all good glues, it has an affinity for plopping and blurping exactly where you don’t want it to land. But that job’s done. Next time maybe I’ll tell you the deep secrets of pecan pie. They begin with a “t” and end in “m”.




Filed under food

4 responses to “Fruitcake is No Joke

  1. KODonnell

    I’ve always wanted to make a good fruitcake but have yet to try. When I mention it at my house…well…there’s sneering involved. My gripe with your post is there are no photos! Pic please!

  2. I should have taken a photo of the great vat of the batter that I stirred up. I’ve got a good mixer, a Hobart, actually, but I make so much fruitcake that at the end I combine all the lots in a humongous bowl inherited from my mother-in-law, and fold all the nuts, peels, raisins, batter and molasses goo together. Think the kind of bowl you could wash a baby in…. Let me go see if I can find a good cake to slice and photograph!

  3. I am not a fruitcake eater, but I do LOVE the Better Homes & Garden cookbook. I got mine when I was 21 (in paperback). Thirty years later I’m still using it even though it’s terribly stained and falling apart.

  4. Love homemade fruitcake. I’ve been using dried cherries. Just found some dried bing cherries, which I’m going to try in the next batch. (They could, you know, be soaked in brandy…)

    I’ve got the fruitcake recipe that was used for Kate & William’s wedding cake, which I’ve tweaked with my own changes (no commercial peel, no candied cherries). I like to use a bit of diced candied pineapple and a little diced candied papaya. Not too much because they’re quite sweet.

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