Holiday season always brings to mind a traditional holiday favorite — fruitcake. So many jokes have been made about tasteless fruitcake that there are not many left. People joke about fruitcake like you buy at the supermarket or receive as a gag gift from someone at the office.
These are not real fruitcakes. They make great doorstops, paperweights, or bowling balls. Most people save the pretty metal can and throw the cake away or pass the cake on as a gift to an unsuspecting relative.
Real fruitcake is homemade like the kind my grandmother used to make. I don’t know where she got the recipe, probably off the back of a box as it doesn’t seem like anything that would have been handed down through generations.
I’m going to let you in on one of our family’s best kept secrets — the recipe for Mama Caldwell’s fruitcake.
The most important thing about a fruitcake is the fruit. Some people seem to forget this very important fact. They try to save money on the main ingredient and buy those sticky packages of candied mixed fruit. No, no, no! This stuff has orange peelings in it. How can it possibly be good?
Pass by the cheap stuff and go for a container of candied pineapple. In addition, you need candied cherries, red, green, or both. The more fruit, the bigger the fruitcake will be. Of course, you need nuts. Mama Caldwell used black walnuts and pecans, but most people do not have walnut trees in the backyard, so it’s okay to only use only pecans. Add a box of raisins and that’s it.
Here’s the secret part: a package of marshmallows, a box of graham crackers crumbed, and a can of Borden’s Eagle Brand Milk. You can use packaged crumbs if you are too lazy to make your own, but do not try to substitute any other kind of condensed milk. Eagle Brand is the only kind that will work. Some have tried other things and learned the hard way.
You need a tube cake pan. If you don’t have one or never heard of such a thing, you can use a bundt cake pan or a loaf pan, but line it with light aluminum foil first. Without the lining, you will never get the cake out of the pan. Just take my word for it and don’t worry about how I know.
Set aside about half a dozen cherries and some pineapple. Don’t ask questions. I’ll tell you why later. Mix the crumbs, fruits, and nuts in a large bowl. Melt the marshmallows. Grandma Caldwell used a double-boiler, but you can do it just as well in the microwave. When melted, stir in the milk, pour over the crumb mixture and stir.
If you have a spouse or child that likes to help in the kitchen, call in the reinforcements. You need help to press the warm mixture quickly and firmly into a pan. If it starts getting hard before you are done, you will have a big sticky mess.
When finished, refrigerate in the pan. Yes, you heard me right. No baking. How easy is that? The next day, remove the cake from the pan and use the reserved fruit to decorate the top. Wrap it in heavy foil and store in the refrigerator, the longer, the better so the flavors blend.
Mama Caldwell sometimes wrapped the cake in muslin soaked with her good homemade wine and aged it in the cellar, but that is not part of her recipe since she was a Baptist and people might talk.
If you couldn’t get the cake out of the pan, quit trying to cook. It is hopeless. Go to the supermarket and buy one of the bricks they sell there. You can always soften it with brandy. Use enough and you won’t care whether it is tasteless or not.
Remember, this is a secret family recipe. Do not give it to anyone. Keep it a secret like I did.
Copyright 2012 Sheila Moss