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Fruitcake: Friend or Foe?

by Ranee Mueller, October 19, 2000

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About Ranee Mueller


My first cooking lesson was from my mother, when I was 3-1/2 years old. She was a divorced mother of a preschooler, was in graduate school herself and thought that if I could make the basics of breakfast foods, it would ease the morning stress. So I climbed up on the counter and learned to make cereal with milk, toast waffles and cook scrambled eggs. Not the kind of lesson recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics for 3 year olds, I'm sure, but it sparked my interest.

It wasn't until I had been married for over a year that I decided to formalize that interest into a career. I was fortunate enough to have an exquisite cook for a mother, a gourmet as a babysitter and a team of foreign university students as family friends to expand my palate and broaden my sense of adventure. I learned by my mother's side, watching and doing small tasks for her. My baby sitter instilled in me the sense that everything was worth trying once, and she handed me pieces of pie crust dough, or a bowl of cookie batter as soon as I was old enough to peer over the counter at her working.

Thus began a live of cooking. With the encouragement of my husband, I am now a recipe developer and a food writer, working on a cookbook of Saudi Arabian foods. The irony being that as a small child I was distraught over eating strange Arabic food. I wanted hamburgers and macaroni and cheese like my friends ate. I was different enough as it was. My mother is having a field day with my fascination with all foods Saudi now. She said that the only Arabic foods I liked as a young child were the sweets and the time consuming dishes. I have tried to keep my food prejudices from entering our oldest son, and so far have been successful. He eats briny olives, hummus and pita as well as his father does.

My life has been spent sharing food. I started with my family, then friends and now, to people online. I look forward to sharing more food adventures with you.

Who among us hasn't seen the tubs of quivering, jellied "fruit" at the grocery store and recoiled? Colors like that are supposed to be a warning when found in nature. Who hasn't heard the jokes about doorstops? The singular fruitcake theory? So, why would I write an article about the virtues of such a despised object? And why so early? After all, Christmas is months away. The answer is simple: A good fruitcake needs these months to get soused.

Fruitcake has a long and colorful history starting in ancient Rome and nearly ending with the mass produced, citron filled abominations of the recent past. Since most things eaten in ancient Rome involved fermented fish paste, I can't imagine that their fruitcake was any better than the glowing masses served at office Christmas parties for the past twenty years. They are still eaten with regularity in the British Isles and Ireland, and wherever the Empire has had lasting influence, however. Sadly, the demise of the fruitcake in the US came with the "simplification" of store bought products. That they are called products and not food is significant. By the time people realized how awful they were, hardly anyone knew how to make proper fruitcakes anymore.

The best fruitcakes eschew citron and oddly colored fruit. I learned this after subjecting myself to the store bought atrocities year after year and vowing never to eat fruitcake again. A year later, a family friend brought some of hers over to share, and I couldn't very well gag and tell her that I would be breaking a sacred commitment if I ate her gift. That day I was converted.

Her fruitcake was made of real fruit and crunchy walnuts out of the shell, it was moist. The cherries were even red! It was an epiphany, it was a miracle, and it sparked my quest for good fruitcakes. A good fruitcake involves dried fruit, fresh nuts and, perhaps some quality candied fruit, not those brightly colored dental work destroyers. A good fruitcake should also be pickled. Now, teetotalers may substitute juice for alcohol, but should know that they will not be able to age the fruitcakes properly.

For the brave hearted and adventurous souls, I present two recipes for true fruitcake that will be enjoyed by friends and family. Once they are shamed into trying them. Both of these recipes are best started around October or November. When they have been properly soaked and aged, serve in thin slices.

Apple-Calvados Fruitcake

Ginger-Peach Fruitcake
  • You found this recipe on 1st Traveler's Choice Internet Cookbook. (www.virtualcities.com)

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