Sunday, November 20, 2011

So, About Fruitcake

A P.S. to yesterday's entry. Walt, who is much more persistent in his Googling than I am, found that awful play. This is the write-up it received, the final sentence being the most telling:

Turn to the Right! (1916), a play by Winchell Smith and John E. Hazzard. [Gaiety Theatre, 435 perf.] When Joe Bascom is released from prison after serving time for a crime he did not commit, he returns to the peach farm owned by his widowed mother. He does not tell his family where he has passed the last year, nor does he tell them the truth about the two friends he brings with him, his prison mates Muggs and Gilly. Although one was an expert at opening safes and the other was a pickpocket, both are determined to go straight. However, when they learn that the devious Deacon Tillinger is using legal technicalities to take the farm from Mrs. Bascom, they resort to their old ways for one final time. They open the deacon's safe, take precisely the money he is demanding, pay it to him, pick his pocket, then return the money to the safe. Mrs. Bascom is shown how to make enough income from her fruit jams to remain solvent, and Joe and his buddies all win the hands of local girls. This clean, homey comedy was one of the biggest hits of its era. It was co-producer John Golden's first success, and he noted in his 1930 autobiography that it “has been playing continuously for 15 years.” A 1981 musical version failed on the West Coast despite President Ronald Reagan's attempt to have a Los Angeles critic promote it. it's not about apple pies or even apple butter, it's still the most terrible show I've ever seen, even if it was "one of the biggest hits of its era." Harumph.

But, yesterday I talked about the play "Fruitcakes." Today I thought I'd talk about the real thing.

The director of the play started the show last night by giving a bit of history about fruitcake.

Apparently the first recipe for fruitcake was from ancient Rome and it lists pomegranate seeds, pine nuts and raisins mixed into barley mash. In the Middle Ages, honey, spices and preserved fruits were added.

Fruitcakes soon proliferated all over Europe. Recipes varied greatly in different countries throughout the ages, depending on the available ingredients as well as (in some instances) church regulations forbidding the use of butter, regarding the observance of fast. Pope Innocent VIII (1432–1492) finally granted the use of butter, in a written permission known as the 'Butter Letter' or Butterbrief in 1490, giving permission to Saxony to use milk and butter in the North German Stollen fruitcakes.

Starting in the 16th century, sugar from the American Colonies (and the discovery that high concentrations of sugar could preserve fruits) created an excess of candied fruit, thus making fruitcakes more affordable and popular.

The legend, of course, is that there is really only one fruitcake in existence and that it just keeps getting passed from person to person, because nobody likes it. I did find a note, however, that fruitcake made with real macerated and candied fruit, nuts and made densely and soaked in high alcohol percentage brandy or rum lasts reportedly at least 130 years. I don't know if anybody ever tasted 130 year old fruitcake, however!

I happen to be one of those weird people who likes fruitcake. There was a time when I actually made it during the holidays. But I really don't like the crap that gets sold by catalog houses these days (I didn't, for example, much like the cake they served at the show last night). My fruitcakes, as I remember them, were heavy on candied fruit, but NOT citron (which I hate, in all its colors!), nuts, and when formed into a cake and baked, then wrapped in gauze and soaked with liquor--brandy, bourbon or rum, I believe. Then it should be packed away for at least a month, adding more liquor from time to time to keep the cake moist (it's not true that it should be the consistency of a door stop!). When Christmas rolls around, cut a slice and serve it with hard sauce.

Hard sauce is just a mixture of butter, powdered sugar, and whiskey, beaten to a perfect consistency and allowed to mellow. Add it to your home-made fruitcake and you will change your opinion about fruitcake.

Of course I won't be making fruitcake this year. Walt doesn't like it and with only two of us in the house, we know who would be eating it all...and I don't need another excuse to eat something that I shouldn't.

1 comment:

Mary Z said...

You and I will have to make and eat fruitcake sometime. I love it, but haven't made one in years. It made too much and didn't get eaten. I don't care for citron either. I used John's mother's recipe, which called for dried apricots cut up, rather than dates, so it was a "white" fruitcake. Very little cake, and lots of fruit. I have to confess that I even will eat some of the commercial ones. Have you tried the ones that come from the Collins Street Bakery in Corsicana, TX? They're pretty good.