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Fruitcake Frenzy

December 28, 2013
The Search - A frenetic search is made each year by Don to locate the very best ingredients for the Christmas fruitcakes. Come October, I begin to hear about how terrible the glacéd fruit is in the stores or about how the nuts are not so fresh. Not one store is overlooked in the quest for the finest ingredients. It is now a bonus to be able to search online, in addition to the stores.

The Search – A frenetic search is made each year by Don, my husband to locate the very best ingredients for the Christmas fruitcakes. Come October, I begin to hear about how terrible the glacéd fruit is in the stores or about how the nuts are not so fresh. Not one store is overlooked in the quest for the finest ingredients. It is now a bonus to be able to search online, in addition to the stores.

I am told stories about how glacéd fruit such as citron, pineapple, orange and lemon peel used to be available in fairly large hunks that could be cut into sizes that were needed for any particular recipe, but of course not any longer - so the search gets a little tougher each year.

I am told stories about how glacéd fruit such as citron, pineapple, orange and lemon peel used to be available in fairly large hunks that could be cut into sizes that were needed for any particular recipe, but of course not any longer – so the search gets a little tougher each year.

Nuts.com turned up the largest freshest pieces of glacéd fruit. UPS brought them to the door in the happiest looking brown box that I have ever seen. Attractive and colorful sealed bags of glacéd fruits sat on the kitchen counter for a week before Don started the cakes, filling the kitchen with a sense of fruitcake anticipation.

Nuts.com turned up the largest freshest pieces of glacéd fruit. UPS brought them to the door in the happiest looking brown box that I have ever seen. Attractive and colorful sealed bags of glacéd fruits sat on the kitchen counter for a week before Don started the cakes, filling the kitchen with a sense of fruitcake anticipation.

Rum is used to macerate the cut up fruit before it is mixed into the cake batter.

Rum is used to macerate the cut up fruit before it is mixed into the cake batter. 

Making fruitcake has been a longtime tradition in Don’s family. In the early 40’s he used to watch his Grandmother in rural Alberta dicing fruit, mixing batter and lining loaf pans with brown paper.   During WW2 every member of the family had a ration card. At the beginning of each ration period, a member of the family went to purchase ration items – mostly sugar. Everyone was told that their left over sugar would be collected by Grandma to be used for baking.  During the war when fruit was difficult to come by, she substituted cut- up fruit flavored gumdrops for some of the glacéd fruit.

Making fruitcake has been a longtime tradition in Don’s family. In the early 40’s he used to watch his Grandmother in rural Alberta dicing fruit, mixing batter and lining loaf pans with brown paper. During WW2 every member of the family had a ration card. At the beginning of each ration period, a member of the family went to purchase ration items – mostly sugar. Everyone was told that their left over sugar would be collected by Grandma to be used for baking. During the war when fruit was difficult to come by, she substituted cut- up fruit flavored gumdrops for some of the glacéd fruit. 

Don started baking fruitcakes and began experimenting with food in his mid teens and has made fruitcakes every Xmas. since that time. He has also made wedding cakes for many family events including our own wedding.  Once-upon-a-time, wedding cakes were always fruitcakes.

Don started baking fruitcakes and began experimenting with food in his mid teens and has made fruitcakes every Xmas. since that time. He has also made wedding cakes for many family events including our own wedding. Once-upon-a-time, wedding cakes were always fruitcakes.

One year when we lived In Scotland, the fruitcake was made and stored in a sealed plastic container and placed in the pantry.  We discovered that a mouse ate right through the container. The nuts were eaten and the only thing found remaining on the pantry floor was the fruit.

One year when we lived In Scotland, the fruitcake was made and stored in a sealed plastic container and placed in the pantry. We discovered that a mouse ate right through the container. The nuts were eaten and the only thing found remaining on the pantry floor was the fruit.

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Many yards of cheesecloth are purchased and carefully wrapped around the cakes.  This year there were 45 pounds of cake.

Many yards of cheesecloth are purchased and carefully wrapped around the cakes. This year there was 45 pounds of cake.

The cakes and cheesecloth are liberally doused with rum.

The cakes and cheesecloth are liberally doused with rum.

The cakes are placed on racks in a large plastic container.

The cakes are placed on racks in a large plastic container.

Clamps are placed around the edges to seal the container as well as possible.

Clamps are placed around the edges to seal the container as well as possible. Don sealed the container with foam weather stripping.

One of Don’s small Xmas. cakes

One of Don’s small Xmas. cakes

Fruitcake traditions - It has long been a custom in some countries to wrap a piece of wedding or birthday cake to give to guests as a remembrance. I recently saw a lady on the Antiques Road Show who collected a number of fruitcake gifts from Queen Victoria’s period that are now worth thousands of pounds/dollars.

Fruitcake traditions – It has long been a custom in some countries to wrap a piece of wedding or birthday cake to give to guests as a remembrance. I recently saw a lady on the Antiques Road Show who collected a number of fruitcake gifts from Queen Victoria’s period that are now worth thousands of pounds/dollars.

So good you can eat it!

So good you can eat it!

For those students who will be attending a class here at Barn House in the next month or two, there will be a piece of Xmas. cake waiting for you.

For those students who will be attending a class here at Barn House in the next month or two, there will be a piece of Xmas. cake waiting for you.   Gail

Follow this link to read about Queen Victoria’s wedding cake

12 Comments leave one →
  1. Mical Middaugh permalink
    December 28, 2013 6:38 am

    WOW!!! Dan and I seem to be the only ones in our family who savor fruitcake. It has been too long since I made any and never with the passion of Don’s baking.

  2. enid kulesh permalink
    December 28, 2013 8:42 am

    The POPPIES graduation, 2003, at which time Don was recognized for his artistic skills. The fruitcake blog has aroused memories of that presentation. Read on…

    There is someone here we need to address,
    What this artist creates never fails to impress!
    His construction, the set-up, and ah!… each home-cooked meal,
    His skills have added SO much to the appeal
    Of this Creative Centre. Such a warm place to be…
    So, will ‘THE DON’ come forward to receive his degree.

    Don, all you do- wow! something to behold,
    Your handiwork… your cooking, you indeed deserve “a gold”!!!
    Now, this crown is not gold…no, that’s reserved for the queen,
    But it recognizes all your work, and your remarkable cuisine!

    (For those who weren’t there when, in 2003
    Don was presented with his special degree
    It was in the form of a special Chef’s hat,
    And, a handkerchief (sob), after a failed rheostat)

    So Don…you’re 80! Hey- we’re getting old
    But you are still at it, and still win the gold.
    HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Don, do have a great year-
    Much happiness to you. I wish you good cheer!

  3. Deb Dehn permalink
    December 28, 2013 3:19 pm

    Dear Gail and Don,

    This is lovely, both from the standpoint of the historical recounting of the place of fruitcake in your lives, and from the beautiful photography showing the fruits of your search for the best ingredients and your techniques. An outstanding fruitcake is an anomaly, but your gem-studded version looks to stand alone. Can I come by from Guemes island to sample a piece?

    To Don, a very happy belated big birthday! My Frank was also born on Christmas Day, he in ’51.

    Thanks for this entertaining post. You two are such a good team!
    Happy New Year,
    Deb Dehn

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  4. birdingbesty permalink
    December 28, 2013 7:27 pm

    Dear Gail

    So appreciate this story today; I have been making my own fruits for the baking of traditional Norwegian breads with fruit in them for about 30 years now. The stuff in the store never tasted good like what my grandmother used. Your link for supplies of fruits and nuts is fantastic – the photos show some wonderful product, thank you so very much.
    Perhaps I will venture into the making of some fruit cakes for next year as well as my family favorites for Yule and Paska.

    Kristin McNamara Freeman

  5. December 29, 2013 12:30 am

    Hello Don and Gail, What beautiful Christmas cakes this year. Looks like you have outdone yourselves. Imagine 45 pounds of fruitcake to celebrate 80 years! A belated Happy Birthday, Don.

    My mother always made two different kinds of fruitcake, one dark the other light, plus steamed persimmon pudding. Must drag out those recipes again one year. Meantime I will look forward to a slice of yours. Much love, Penny

  6. Karie Amstutz permalink
    December 29, 2013 10:24 pm

    A lovely story! It is almost a modern version of Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory.

  7. Jay linn permalink
    December 30, 2013 1:10 pm

    Fascinating tribute Gail.. Thanks… :-*

  8. January 7, 2014 7:01 pm

    hi, i found your blog through story shucker’s blog. I just had to take a peek at something entitled “fruit cake frenzy” 🙂 All those fruits, the muslin, the maceration and labeling look so familiar, but your partner is truly passionate about this! There should be one of Don’s cakes for every bad fruit cake out there to counter the hate 🙂 And that slice of fruit cake looks so fine. I would definitely eat it, if not for taste then for all that care and preparation that went into it.

  9. Barbara Fox permalink
    January 8, 2014 5:44 am

    It tickles me that Don takes such care and pleasure in the creation of his annual fruitcakes. My dad and mom loved fruitcake and made their own each year to give to friends and business associates. So, I developed a love of fruitcake from an early age and still love it. Looking forward to a taste when the Chocolate Flowers meet in February if there is any left.

    AND, Happy Belated Birthday Wishes to Don!!!

  10. Low permalink
    January 13, 2014 4:25 pm

    I live in hope that I will once again taste a light fruitcake as good as the one Don made for our wedding. I’ve tried a number of recipes, but never hit one quite as good. We hated to come to the end of the top layer of the wedding cake that we had frozen for anniversaries. Or should I say, anniversary. Couldn’t quite quit eating it. Thanks for posting this. Katherine.

  11. November 24, 2014 9:59 am

    Reblogged this on Don2's blog and commented:
    I’ve just started the prep for fruitcakes 2014. watch to see how they turn out. Don

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