Pat’s Fruitcake

fruitcake slicedWhen I was growing up in Nebraska, my Irish grandmother made fruitcake for the family. It was gooey and sticky, and steeped in liquor, the only liquor little kids were allowed to have. Even the egg nog was non-alcoholic for the kids. But the fruitcake was oozing with liquor. Unfortunately, I never got the family recipe for the fruitcake from her, but I distinctly remember what it tasted like.

When I got married, I discovered my husband also likes the most maligned of holiday cakes, and we searched to find our own recipe for it. Now forty years later, my husband and I still make our Christmas fruitcake on Thanksgiving weekend to give to our family and friends.

We originally bought a copy of From Julia Child’s Kitchen for the onion soup recipe, another culinary delight we found we shared. But rummaging around in the book, we found Julia Child’s Sticky Cake, which once we tasted it became our holiday staple.

We don’t exactly make Child’s recipe, but take liberties with the amount of fruit, mincemeat, nuts, and liquor we add. We don’t put in any coffee, because we’re not coffee drinkers, nor do we add the apricot glaze. Also we up most of the spices by a half teaspoon.  Because my Cajun grandmother sent me hand-shelled pecans from her Louisiana yard every year, we got in the habit of only using pecans in the recipe, and still do so to this day.

Like the recipe states, we wash the fruit in boiling water and macerate the fruit overnight in the spices and liquor, but we add more liquor for weeks after the cake has cooked. If you use a regular sized loaf pan, Child’s recipe makes three loaves.

fruitcake whole

We used to make two batches, but alas, our list of recipients has dwindled in the past few years with the deaths of family and friends, and our elder daughter’s move to Italy.

Our younger daughter who works at the federal courthouse in San Francisco introduced the fruitcake to her foodie co-workers last year. The foodies liked it so much they’ve asked for more this year. High praise for a food that’s so bad mouthed.

As we get closer to the holidays, we augment the fruitcake with cookies and wassail. But the piece de resistance for our Christmas celebrations has always been fruitcake.

Are you a fruitcake lover as well? Or are you someone who enjoys fruitcake jokes and wouldn’t touch a piece?

–Pat Henshaw

6 thoughts on “Pat’s Fruitcake

  1. maggie b.

    I will admit that the few times I have had fruit cake it has been dry and just not very tasty. Your description of sticky and liquor laden has convinced me to give it another try.

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  2. Sarah

    As the older daughter who moved away….I terribly miss my fruitcake!!! It is such a beautiful (and yummy!) tradition!!! Thanks for the many years of fruitcake…and to many more!

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  3. Pat

    We make the wassail out of the Nebraska pioneer cookbook that includes a steeping of orange and lemon rinds in spices and sugar then added to apple cider and warmed. Like the fruitcake, it’s time-consuming and involved, but well worth the effort. It’s non alcoholic, so everyone can enjoy it. For years it was the only thing my husband “cooked.”

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  4. Carina

    As with your fruitcake, my father used Julia Child’s recipe as a guide. He also tweaks it to his liking…he starts making it right after Halloween and soaks it in sherry for the months of November and December.
    I have never had any fruitcake close to his and I never turn down a chance to try someone’s recipe.
    It was such a pleasant surprise to see this and I will have to share this with him.

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