Equally loved and loathed, the fruit-and-nut loaf come Christmas is as ubiquitous as hand-knitted Rudolph sweaters covered in jingle bells and puff paint. Here are two vintage recipes, circa 1912, sure to please the fruit cake lovers (and maybe turn the hearts of the haters) at the ugly Christmas sweater party this year.
Holiday tip: Along with your cake, offer your host a copy of Nora Ephron’s Christmas comedy Mixed Nuts — with Madeline Kahn, Steve Martin, and a fruit cake disaster that leads to romance.
The Christmas Fruit Cake:Two Well-Tried Recipes That Are Sure to Give Good Results
Originally published in The Country Gentleman, December 14, 1912
As soon as December “blows in” the good housekeeper begins her Christmas cookery. The sooner the fruit cake is made the better, so plan your work that you may make this great cake as early as possible. One of the best recipes that I have yet found and one that I have used with great success is as follows:
- 1 pound of butter
- 1 pound of sugar — light brown
- 10 large eggs
- 1 pound of flour
- 1 teaspoonful of salt
- 1 teaspoonful of mace
- 1 teaspoonful of nutmeg
- 1 teaspoonful of allspice
- 1 teaspoonful of cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoonful of cloves
- 1 pound of candied cherries
- 1 pound of sultana raisins
- 1 pound of seeded raisins
- 2 pounds of currants
- 1 pound of blanched sliced almonds
- 1 pound of citron
- 1 pound of candied pineapple
- 2 tablespoonfuls of molasses
- Grated rind and juice of 1 orange and 1 lemon>
- 1 cupful of grape juice
First prepare the fruit, cutting the citron and pineapple into small pieces. Leave the cherries whole. Wash and dry the raisins and currants. Do this several days before the cake is to be made so that they will be thoroughly dry. Blanch and slice the almonds. Prepare the seeded raisins by pouring boiling water over them and allowing them to drain. Tear into small pieces or cut with scissors. Clean the currants by placing them in a colander and shaking flour over them and rubbing it in carefully. Put the colander into a pan of cold water and rinse them until the water comes off clear. Pick off the stones, dry them in a very cool oven or in the sun. You will be surprised to see how dirty the currants are.
The sultana raisins are the tiny white raisins and are a great addition to the cake if you can procure them. If your grocer doesn’t carry them in stock perhaps you can persuade him to send away for them. Prepare them the same as the other raisins. Sift the flour twice; add the soda, salt, spices, grated fruit rind, nuts, and fruit, stirring well in order to distribute the flour.
Cream the butter until very light, using either a wooden spoon or the hand for the process. Some object to the hand, on the ground that it is not sanitary, but if mother’s hand stirs the Christmas cake that always makes it better. The hand also blends the ingredients better and the slight warmth of the hand creams the butter more quickly than a spoon. Add the sugar gradually, beating constantly. Beat the eggs, whites and yolks together until very light. Add them a little at a time to the creamed butter and sugar. If the mixture shows a tendency to curdle, as it sometimes does, add a little of the flour, but do not add more flour than is really necessary at this time. Next add the molasses, flour, salt, soda, spices and fruit, beating thoroughly. Stir in the fruit juices.
Line a cake pan with three thicknesses of paper, cut to fit bottom and sides. Grease the paper with unsalted fat, preferably oil, as butter has a tendency to make things stick, owing to the salt in it. Let stand 24 hours to ripen before baking. This cake is better if it is steamed before it is baked, a regular steamer or a fireless cooker being used. Have the water boiling when the cake pans are put in and be very sure that the water cannot come over the tops of the pans.
If the cake is made in one large cake, it should be steamed five hours, then baked in a moderate oven for one hour to dry it a little. If two or more pans are used, shorten the time accordingly. The cake is sufficiently baked when it goes back into place when pressed with the finger. After the baking is completed, remove the cake from the pan by loosening it round the edges with a knife and slipping it out on a wire cake rack. If you haven’t one use the oven rack, supporting it on some dish, so as to allow a current of air to pass round the cake until it is cold.
When the cake is cold cover it with an icing made of powdered sugar and milk, using from two to four tablespoonfuls of milk to one cupful of powdered sugar. The icing should be of such a consistency as not to run when spread. In a day or two, cover again with royal icing.
- 1 egg white [If the idea of eating raw egg makes you queasy, sub 2 teaspoons meringue powder and 2 tablespoons water for egg.]
- 1 cupful of powdered sugar
- 1 tablespoonful of lemon juice
Put the unbeaten white of an egg in a bowl, add the sugar slowly, beating constantly with a spoon, then the lemon juice. Put evenly over the cake and smooth with a knife dipped in hot water. Decorate with some of the icing squeezed through a tube made of white paper.
This is a very rich cake, but one desires rich things at Christmastime. The cake will keep for months and it may be served at functions later in the season.
If one desires a plainer fruit cake this is a good recipe:
- 3/4 pound of butter
- 1 pound of brown sugar 6 eggs 1 pound of currants 1 pound of raisins
- 1/2 pound of citron
- 1 cupful of molasses
- 1 teaspoonful of cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoonful of allspice
- 1/2 teaspoonful of cloves
- 1/2 teaspoonful of nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoonful of mace
- 2 teaspoonfuls of baking powder
- 1 teaspoonful of salt
- 1 cupful of grape juice
- Flour for stiff batter
Prepare everything as for the other fruit cake. Either steam and bake or bake four hours without the steaming. Have the oven only moderately hot for the baking.
News of the Week: Best Books of the Year, the Whipped Cream Shortage, and the Search for a Good Fruit Cake
Every December, when the “best books” lists come out, I discover that I haven’t read any of the books that are picked. I’m always a year or two (or ten) behind when it comes to the big, hot books, if I read them at all. One of these days I’m going to read Jonathan Franzen’s 2001 novel The Corrections, I swear!
This year you’ll see a lot of books repeated on many of the lists, like the Saturday Evening Post list from the editors at Amazon, which includes Zadie Smith’s Swing Time, Michael Chabon’s Moonglow, and T.C. Boyle’s The Terranauts.
The New York Times’ top 10 list includes Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, Stefan Hertman’s War and Turpentine, and Ian McGuire’s The North Water. Bloomberg’s picks include The Course of Love by Alain de Botton, Chuck Klosterman’s But What If We’re Wrong? (hey, I read that one!), and Robert Gottlieb’s Avid Reader. NPR has an interesting list, with such books as Everybody’s Fool by Richard Russo, Commonweath by Ann Patchett, Where Am I Now? by Mara Wilson, and Ruth Franklin’s Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life. Over at USA Today they have a list of the best food and beverage books of the year, while The Washington Post picked the best mysteries and thrillers.
The one book I keep seeing mentioned as one of the best of the year is Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance. I’m going to pick that one up. And in addition to picking it up, I’ll even buy it.
There’s a Whipped Cream Shortage
In the grand scheme of things, a canned whipped cream shortage might not seem like the most important of scarcities, but the reason behind it is rather interesting.
There’s actually a shortage of nitrous oxide, used to make products such as Reddi-Wip, because of an explosion at Airgas’ Nitrous Oxide Corporation plant in Florida back in August. Whatever nitrous oxide remains has to be reserved for use at hospitals and other medical facilities. Some supermarket chains, such as Market Basket in New England, are telling customers that there may be a shortage of canned whipped cream for your pumpkin pie and other desserts this holiday season.
Maybe this is a good time for everyone to remember that before whipped topping shot out of a can, everyone bought Dream Whip. Yup, they still make it.
RIP Alan Thicke, Bernard Fox, Joseph Mascolo, Joan Carroll, and Cindy Stowell
Alan Thicke will be remembered for his role as the dad in the ’80s sitcom Growing Pains, of course, but he had an interesting career before and after that. He hosted his own talk show in his native Canada and tried to repeat that success in late night in 1983 with ABC’s Thicke of the Night, but with Johnny Carson as the competition, it didn’t last. He also co-wrote several songs, including the themes to Diff’rent Strokes, The Facts of Life, and other shows. In the ’60s and ’70s, he wrote for such series as The Paul Lynde Show, The Bobby Darin Show, The Richard Pryor Show, and Fernwood 2 Night. He recently made appearances on This Is Us and Fuller House.
Thicke passed away of a heart attack while playing hockey with his son Carter, who costarred with his dad on the E! reality series Unusually Thicke. He was 69.
Bernard Fox played Doctor Bombay on Bewitched and was in movies like Titanic, The Rescuers, and The Mummy, along with TV shows like Columbo, Murder, She Wrote, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Andy Griffith Show, and … well, a gazillion others. He passed away Wednesday at the age of 89.
Joseph Mascolo played one of the great villains in soap opera history, Days of Our Lives’ Stefano DiMera, a role he played off and on for more than 30 years. He also made appearances on The Rockford Files, Lou Grant, Hill Street Blues, The Equalizer, It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, and movies like Jaws 2 and Sharky’s Machine. Mascolo was 87.
Joan Carroll was a child actress you might see on television this holiday season because Meet Me in St. Louis, the 1944 film she costarred in with Judy Garland, introduced the song “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” She was also in The Bells of St. Mary’s with Bing Crosby (she retired from the movies after that), Primrose Path, and several other films.
Carroll died on November 16 at the age of 85, but news of her death was just reported this week.
Cindy Stowell passed away from cancer on December 5, just a week before the episodes of Jeopardy she taped months ago aired. During filming, Stowell was in pain and suffering from a high fever (later discovered to be from a blood infection) and still beat the two other contestants to become champion. The show gave her a copy of the episode so she could watch it before she passed away at the much-too-young age of 41. Her friend, writer Jim Geraghty, has penned a nice tribute to Stowell.
Fred, Barney, Santa, and Peter
Last week we talked about the best Christmas songs, and the week before that I listed a few Christmas movies you might want to check out this month. Now let’s talk about that other art form, the TV commercial.
Maybe I’m nostalgic for an earlier time, but I love a lot of Christmas commercials. There’s the Staples ad where the dog gets wrapped up, the Fruity Pebbles spot with Fred, Barney, and Santa (Barney must be really cold because he has no shoes and he’s basically wearing a dress), and the Norelco ad where Santa rides down the hill on an electric razor.
But the ad below remains my favorite. Folgers used to run it every year, but they stopped a while back. I don’t know why they don’t run it every single year. At one point it was as much of an annual tradition as Charlie Brown buying the small tree and Clarence getting his wings:
This Week in History
Gone with the Wind Premieres (December 15, 1939)
The classic movie based on Margaret Mitchell’s novel and starring Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh premiered in Atlanta, Georgia. Here’s how MGM’s News of the Day covered the premiere.
Glenn Miller Disappears (December 15, 1944)
There has never been an official explanation as to what happened to the bandleader and two other men after Miller’s plane vanished over the English Channel, but many experts think he may have been accidentally bombed.
Wright Brothers First Flight (December 17, 1903)
It was Orville who took the controls of the first powered flight above a Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, beach. It lasted 12 seconds. Later that day, his brother Wilbur flew a distance of 852 feet in 59 seconds. Here’s Jeanne Wolf’s interview with David McCullough, author of last year’s number-one bestseller The Wright Brothers.
The 85th Annual Hollywood Christmas Parade
On the East Coast, you can see Santa at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. On the West Coast, you can see him in the Hollywood Christmas Parade, along with Grand Marshal Olivia Newton-John, Dean Cain, Montel Williams, the stars of The Young and the Restless, Robert Wagner, and Erik Estrada. It was filmed at the end of November and airs tonight at 8 p.m. ET on The CW.
Is There Such a Thing as a Good Fruitcake?
At this point, fruit cake jokes are as clichéd as jokes about airline food and mothers-in-law. Nobody likes fruit cake! The same fruit cake has been floating around for years! I used the one I got as a door stop! But there must be a good recipe for fruit cake, right?
I think it’s the hard pieces of fruit in the cake that dooms it, but you can have fruit in our cake without adding those. This recipe from Allrecipes uses dried fruit instead of the usual candied stuff. Alton Brown is always looking for the best recipes, and he makes a fruit cake in this video that has received a lot of great reviews. But if you want a “cake” that has “fruit” in it but don’t necessarily want to have a fruit cake, how about Rachel Allen’s Irish Apple Cake?
I bet it would be great with some Dream Whip on it.
Next Week’s Holidays and Events
Tony Bennett Celebrates 90 Years (December 20)
The singer’s birthday was back on August 3, but NBC is celebrating the milestone Tuesday with the special Tony Bennett Celebrates 90: The Best is Yet to Come at 9 p.m. ET. There’s a theme to the night, as Michael Bublé Sings and Swings airs at 8 p.m.
Winter Solstice (December 21)
Wednesday is the day that the Northern Hemisphere experiences the shortest day and longest night of the year. It’s also the day everyone says, “Oh, I haven’t even started my Christmas shopping yet!”