TRADITIONAL HOLIDAY FOODS: FRUITCAKE

The first fruitcake was placed on the tombs of loved ones, perhaps as nourishment for their afterlife.  But fruitcakes were not common until Roman times, when they were prized for their shelf life and often taken into battle with Roman soldiers.  Fruitcake remains a common gift for soldiers still today.

fruitcakeAs we progress in world history, every century seems to add an ingredient to what was once only pomegranates, pine nuts, and barely.  After cupfuls of sugar, candied fruits, nuts, and alcohol were added, the 18th century shows us a very dense, decadent cake that was a staple during English tea time.

Surprisingly, Johnny Carson is the one credited with giving fruitcake a bad name.  He said, “The worst gift is fruitcake. There is only one fruitcake in the entire world, and people keep sending it to each other.”

14 ounces sweetened flaked coconut
8 ounces chopped sugar rolled dates
16 ounces pecan pieces
8 ounces candied cherries
8 ounces diced candied pineapple
2 (14  ounce) cans sweetened condensed milk

  1. Place coconut, dates, and pecan pieces in a very large (7 quart or larger) bowl. With your hands break up chunks of dates & coconut, and stir those 3 ingredients together.
  2. Add the cherries, pineapple, and sweetened condensed milk. Stir thoroughly. (I wear non-powdered surgical gloves, and stir it with my hands because the mixture is very stiff.).
  3. Let set at room temperature while you prepare the pans. Spray 2 – 9″x5″ loaf pans with Pam. Line the pans with waxed (or parchment) paper. (We cut parchment paper in 4 1/4″x 16 1/4″ strips for this. You want the paper to come up past the short sides of the pans after the mixture is packed into the pans.) Now spray the paper (after you’ve pressed it into the pans) with Pam.
  4. Stir the ingredients well again.Divide the ingredients equally between the 2 loaf pans.
  5. Pack VERY TIGHTLY and smoothly into the pans. (I wet my hands & press, pack down, & smooth top, using both hands. Wetting your hands keeps them from sticking to “batter”.).
  6. Place the pans on the middle rack of the oven and bake at 300 degrees F for 1 hour, or until lightly browned. (If the cakes have baked for an hour, or look a little brown around the edges, take them out of the oven & lift edges of paper a little to see if sides look brown enough. If they’re brown on sides, but not on top, you may broil the tops for a few minutes-watch carefully.).
  7. Remove cakes from oven and let cool for 10 minutes in the pans.
  8. Gently lift the edges of the paper a couple of times on each side – kind of a rocking motion. (Sometimes I have to run a sharp knife down the edges of the pan.) Turn pans upside down onto a paper-lined cookie sheet. Lift pans from the cakes. Remove paper from bottom of cakes IMMEDIATELY.
  9. Let cool completely. Place in a large container (don’t wrap yet) and refrigerate overnight.
  10. Turn cake upside down to slice. After slicing, wrap in waxed (or parchment) paper, then in heavy duty aluminum foil.
  11. May be refrigerated up to 3 months or frozen up to 1 year.

Traverse City, Michigan is a great place to visit if you’re interested in cherry production.  Pick your own, meet a farmer, and enjoy fresh cherries this summer!!

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