I’m thinking of those old hangover memories from many long years ago when people still consumed fruitcakes, largely homemade and a gift signifying abundance for everyone who receives it. And when I read the book, A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote, it increased my love of the tasty treat.
So for several years now, I have adopted the philosophy that fruitcake is indeed a sacred treat and must be treated as such. Therefore, it is a treat that requires special ingredients and the timing must be well-thought-out to have it ready at just the right time. When you make a fruitcake, you cannot just throw the ingredients together. You must go out and gather the ingredients in the most meaningful ways you can, and you also should not be afraid to experiment with the ingredients. And in the end result, your fruitcake needs to be like a cake and not a bowl of soup.
Here is a recipe for one of the special fruitcakes I have made for this special time. It is from my book, Pumpkin, Pumpkin: Folklore, History, Growing Hints and Good Eating, 3rd Edition. The book actually contains a whole lot more than what the title implies, but it could have filled up the cover with the title, so I have kept it shorter intentionally.
1 c. canned pumpkin; 4 c. all-purpose flour; 1 c. buttermilk; 4 eggs; 1 c. brown sugar OR 1/2 c. brown sugar & 1/2 c. molasses; zest of one lemon and one orange; liquor of choice for soaking fruit
Juice of 1 lemon and 1 orange; Enough rum, brandy or liquor of choice mixed with juice of the lemon and orange, to cover the fruit; 1 1/2 c. pecans or walnuts (I like the whole halves or 1/4ths, but you might want to chop yours up more except for some halves for the top); 4 c. mixed dried fruit (dried apples, apricots, pineapple, cranberries, raisins, figs, dates or any combination you like); 1 tsp. baking powder; 1/2 tsp. baking soda; 1 tsp. ea. cinnamon, allspice, ginger (I add other spices as they occur to me by my choice – the recipe will not fail if you do not use others); salt (salt is very personal and will not make a difference whether you use it or not; if you have ever experimented with salt, you will know how this works).
Put all dried fruit into a bowl and cover it with a mixture of orange juice and rum or brandy, etc. to your taste. You need enough of the liquor to cover the fruit. Soak for at least 24 hours. I always add the liquor to what feels right to me personally. Remember that you are going to keep this cake in a tin until nearly Christmas (if you can do that), so you can add more along the way to make it better.
Preheat oven to 350o. To make the cake, mix all dry ingredients, and then add the pumpkin, eggs, and buttermilk. When mixture is consistently blended, pour in the rum soaked fruits.
Bake about 60 minutes, or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. This cake can sit out, covered in a lidded tin container, and it will just keep getting better.
For me, the making of the fruitcake comes from the line in the book uttered by one of his beloved relatives, “It’s fruitcake weather.” It is how I love to celebrate my autumn. I hope you will find some good ways to celebrate yours as well.