Fa la la la la! It’s fruitcake time

Published 10:31 pm Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Don’t hate me because I like fruitcake, but not just any fruitcake. I’m fond of a white fruitcake chock full of candied pineapple and cherries, even a bit of orange peel, plus a soupcon of white raisins and a couple handfuls of chopped pecans or walnuts.
Of course, there are fruitcakes that deserve the corny comments, jocular jokes, ribald remarks and tongue-in-cheek tales that circulate this time of year about them. (I love alliteration.) These are not the fruitcakes of which I write.
I also give my stamp of approval to a slim selection of dark fruitcakes, and I was raised on such a fruitcake. Each fall, my mother would whip up her family’s traditional dark fruitcake. I know this recipe came from my mother’s mother, who got it from her mother, and who knows how far back, for the shortening is salt pork, which must be finely ground, which chore fell to the women to do. That pretty much tells us this is an old recipe, and the idea of salt pork in a fruitcake can be off-putting for some.
Mom, as the women before her, stuck every kind of candied fruit in her cakes, and I liked them. Actually, the salt pork provides a not-unappealing flavor. So I continued making that same fruitcake — but found a butcher who would grind the salt pork for me. Today, most fruitcake recipes call for butter or margarine as the shortening, so you needn’t look for a butcher to grind your salt pork.
I’ve been exposed to many fruitcakes over the years, and one I day tasted the best of the best: the one mentioned above, a white batter with specific candied fruits and other items added. I begged for the recipe. That is the fruitcake I make today.
Once the cake is baked, embellishing the top with candied fruit and nuts in a light syrup is traditional with some, but not me. The only thing that goes on top of my fruitcake is a cloth soaked in wine, the variety isn’t important, then wrapped securely about the whole cake. This will give you a moist, mellow cake, but you must add wine to keep the cloth damp. Placing the whole thing in a plastic container keeps it from drying out quickly. The fruitcake will ripen enhancing its deliciousness.
Some fruitcakes list wine as an ingredient, or you may substitute fruit juice. The variety of ingredients in a fruitcake recipe can be wide and diversified from grape jelly to whiskey to 15 egg yolks to kumquats.
(Which reminds me that I have yet to find any kumquats in eastern Carolina. I love kumquats, those little guys you eat skin and all.)
According to one expert, fruitcakes well-saturated with spirits, buried in powdered sugar and stored in tightly covered tins have been enjoyed as long as 25 years after baking.
Or do your fruitcake your way, like the woman who wasn’t fond of the usual candied fruits, so she cooked chopped, dried apricots, dates, raisins and currants in orange juice, then added pumpkin and sunflower seeds, all of which went into her fruitcake batter. I want to know where she got the currants.
Now if you’re expecting me to offer my favorite white fruitcake recipe, you’re in for a disappointment. My recipe isn’t necessarily the one you’re going to like best. Just keep trying that myriad of recipes that pop up this time of year and you’ll find the one that tempts your taste buds.
Or you can buy a commercial fruitcake — some of them aren’t bad, but those usually are the expensive ones. I, who sincerely believes in the Thanksgiving turkey, implore you to bake and enjoy your own homemade fruitcake. If you come up with an especially great recipe, don’t lose it.
I’m good at losing recipes.