When my youngest daughter, Jessica, arrived tonight to stay a few days over Christmas, I directed her to the fridge where there was a small pan of leftover lentil soup for her to heat up. I also placed a loaf of what I told her was "dried fruit nut bread" on a cutting board to accompany the soup. Looking upon it, she said,"It's not that icky bread that people make at Christmas, is it?" Me: "You mean fruit cake?" Jessica: "Ya, that." Me: No response. I just wanted her to taste my fruit cake before she passed judgement on this Christmas tradition that is oft a butt of jokes. Afterall, the recipe triggered a memory... as food often does. I wanted her to be part of that memory, because she was. Tucked into my recipe box for 25 years or so, handwritten, passed down over three generations... grandmother to mother to daughter, a traditional citron fruit cake recipe. Not my family's recipe. No. But a family's special recipe nonetheless. I first tasted it during a Christmas season so very many years ago when, with my young daughters in tow, I went to First Federal in Brainerd (Minnesota) to do what it is that one does at a bank. In the spirit of the season, that December day, there were home baked goodies for bank patrons to sample. They were beautifully, enticingly arranged atop a cloth-lined table in the bank's lobby. An employee had made a fruit cake for the occasion but had subbed colorful, chopped gumdrops for the citron. Tasting it, I imagined what Edmund in C.S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe must have experienced when he began to eat the Turkish Delight that the White Witch had provided him. I complimented the baker and asked if she might be willing to share the recipe. She kindly did so. It has a note at the bottom of p. 2 from her mother that adds a personal touch that handwritten recipes do. "Thanks for your letter. Will write later. Am taking Grandpa to the doctor, but wanted you to get this. Love, Mom" Sweet.
It's the fruit cake's citron that makes it distasteful to some, I am convinced. Simple solution... switch out the citron (candied citrus fruit rind) for gumdrops or dried fruit like dark and golden raisins, cherries, cranberries, dates, pineapple, and apricots. It doesn't seem right to eliminate the citron and still call it fruit cake, yet...
1. aroma of spices wafting from the sifter... 2. dried fruit and nuts 3. parchment-lined foil loaf pans 4. dried fruit cake batter
Dried Fruit Cake
(I reduced the original quantities in the entire recipe by half and reduced some quantities even further to make it cleaner.)
1 ½ cups unsweetened applesauce
½ cup lard ¼ cup butter
1 cup ½ cup sugar
Mix and heat over low setting until butter melts. Let stand overnight. I allowed it to cool while I prepared the remaining ingredients. In a large bowl, sift or whisk the following ingredients together. Prepare pans by lining them with natural parchment paper. (See photo above.) I used three EZ Foil loaf pans size 5 ¾ inch X 3 ¼ inch that each hold 1 ¼ cups batter .
2 ¼ cups flour
2 tsp soda
½ tsp nutmeg
1 ¼ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp allspice
¼ tsp cloves
½ tsp salt
Mix the following dried fruit into the dry mixture. I chose, instead, to add it to the applesauce mixture. Flour gets lodged in the crevices of raisins and dried cranberries. The annoying white spots cause the end product to not look as pretty.
½ cup citron
¼ cup diced dried pineapple
¼ cup dried cherries (I subbed cranberries.)
1 cup dark raisins (I subbed ¼ cup diced dates.)
1 cup golden raisins (I omitted.)
Combine the wet and dry ingredients. 1 ¼ cups batter in each parchment-lined pan perfectly fills them 3/4 full. Since I chose to use a much smaller size pan than what was used in the original recipe, I referred to my “little helper” chart to adjust the oven temperature and baking time, so… if using small foil pans as I did, bake at 350° for approximately 35 minutes instead of 325° for 1 ½ hours as the original recipe states. After removing fruit cake from oven and testing for doneness with a toothpick, use parchment paper flaps to lift from pan onto a cooling rack.