Every family, even mine, has at least one famous holiday recipe. Ours is The Fruitcake. Wouldn’t you know it?
(The blog will take a brief break while you get the fruitcake jokes out of your system.)
All better now?
Yes, this month’s Ancestral Dish is The Fruitcake. Some food historians think fruitcake has become a joke because we’ve lost touch with the flavors that once made it an exotic treat. At our fingertips in the supermarket are out-of-season fruit and rows of exotic seasonings. We no longer thrill to the thought of candied fruit and allspice.
But I think fruitcake is a joke because so few people have actually baked one. A real fruitcake is light-years away from a cellophane-wrapped, brick-textured horror.
And no less an authority than the hallowed Fannie Farmer Cookbook says: “Every kitchen file should have a recipe for a distinguished dark fruitcake.” So there.
Grandma Haigney’s fruitcake came from her mom, my dad once said. It is a classic loaf version, as opposed to the golden tube-pan version, as opposed to the remarkable Caribbean variation sometimes known as “black cake.” (Black cake is something I will make someday, if I ever remember to start soaking the fruit six months ahead.)
And Grandma’s cake is really good. The cake part has a terrific gingerbread-like quality.
Around 1971 or ’72, my dad obtained the recipe for The Fruitcake from his oldest sister, setting off a decade of holiday fruitcake baking. At first Dad turned out just enough for the family, but eventually output peaked at somewhere around 60 cakes each Christmas.
Faced with such demand, Dad grew weary of chopping walnuts by hand. So he splurged on a La Machine, one of the early mass-market food processors available in the U.S., and hot stuff compared to the old Waring blender. Dad lost no time throwing a triple batch of walnuts into his new kitchen toy.
Alas, our knowledge of food processing technique was primitive in those days. (What is this thing you call “pulsing”?) Dad ran the motor far too long, resulting in a bowl full of walnut dust and a string of colorful expletives.
This resulted in an immortal news bulletin delivered by my mother (in all innocence, of course):
“Just wait till you see what that La Machine did to your father’s nuts!”
Ah, Christmas memories.
For the recipe, click through.
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Once I was a food section copy editor, and each year I fact-checked glowing Thanksgiving stories of the hallowed family traditions reflected in each cholesterol-busting side dish.
And I felt a bit left out. We make a fine Thanksgiving feast at my house, with all the proper things. But we really don’t have any truly unique ancestral side dishes.
The only noteworthy side dish was the stuffing, not because it’s unusual, but because it was the focus of a fierce tug-of-war between my parents. (Which is also not unusual. People are passionate about stuffing. Or dressing. Or whether it’s called stuffing or dressing.)
It was a face-off between Her Mother and His Mother, but indirectly, since my father’s mother, sadly, had died before Dad and Mom met.
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