I inherited a cookbook from my Nana (grandmother) that she purchased from a co-worker at the garment factory where they both worked in the late 60’s. It was a community-style cookbook consisting of recipes submitted by members of a church congregation in Schuylkill County (Pa.). The poor thing is now so grease-stained and splotched and missing both cover and several front pages (that dealt with how to carve a roast and kitchen tips) that its origin is completely unidentifiable.
I was browsing through one day in the early 80’s looking for something to make for the holidays in addition to my normal list of traditional cookies. My eyes fell upon a recipe for fruit cake.
Upon seeing the title of the recipe, my mind immediately went to the traditional, heavy as lead, overly stuffed with candied fruit concoction that has been the butt of jokes for decades. “Pass”, I thought.
A few seconds later, I realized that this recipe was more of a spice loaf quick-bread type fruitcake and contained raisins, maraschino cherries, and nuts – three things I always had on hand and my family loved.
This cookbook is one of those rare ones to be treasured; the kind in which every recipe you try comes out the way it should and the cookbook is filled from front to back with recipes that you use over and over again. So, I decided to give the recipe a try.
I gathered the ingredients and, instead of making two large loaves, I prepped some disposable aluminum mini loaf pans I had sitting in the corner of a cabinet left over from another baking project.
I was home alone that day while my folks were out doing some Christmas shopping, so by the time my family arrived back home early evening, the mini loaf fruitcakes were lined up and cooled, ready to be thrust upon my willing taste testers.
As I served up slices, my lips dared not mutter, “fruitcake”, so I just said, “It has some raisins and stuff…” Dad dug in, quickly followed by my Mom. When both asked for another slice followed by the inevitable question, “What is this?” I figured it was time to say it – fruit cake.
As there were six mini loaves from one batch, Mom asked if I would be interested in making some for her to give as gifts to a few of her long-time home health care clients for the holidays. I eagerly agreed, made several more loaves, wrapped them in colored cellophane tied with bows and sent them off with my Mom to gift to her clients.
Before I knew it, Mom was coming home with requests from people wanting to buy the loaves to give as gifts to their friends and families. That holiday season, I made dozens of those little fruitcakes and they went all over Schuylkill County and beyond. I suppose that was my first official job as a “professional baker”!
To this day I use that same recipe for my fruitcakes. With only two of us in my home now, I often freeze several mini loaves, tightly wrapped, for use at other holidays or for snacking throughout the year.
Don’t let “fruitcake” be a scary word any longer!
The whiskey in the recipe (2 Tablespoons total) is optional, but I always use it. If you do not normally keep whiskey around, one of the little “nips” bottles you find at the liquor store is sufficient quantity for this recipe. The whiskey can also be completely omitted, if desired.
You can use full size 9 x 5 inch loaf pans for this recipe if you desire, bake at 300F for 85 to 90 minutes for full-sized loaves.
I never frost/glaze these cakes, but a sprinkle of powdered sugar on top before cutting and serving makes a pretty presentation. This cake is lovely with tea or coffee and even lends itself to being sliced thin, spread with a little softened cream cheese, then being topped with another thin slice of fruitcake (little tea sandwiches).
The fruitcake is best if wrapped in plastic once completely cooled then sliced the next day. To give mini fruitcakes as gifts, bake in disposable aluminum or paper mini loaf pans, leave the loaves in the pans, wrap with plastic wrap and tie a festive bow around the middle.
Not Your Typical FruitcakeCourse: Dessert, SnacksCuisine: Coal Region, GeneralDifficulty: Intermediate
A lighter fruitcake that more resembles a spiced quick bread.
- Plumped Raisins
1 pound (16 ounces) dark raisins
2 cups water
1 Tablespoon whiskey
4 cups all purpose flour
2 cups brown sugar
1 cup water
1/2 cup melted vegetable shortening
1 Tablespoon whiskey
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda dissolved in 1 Tablespoon hot water
1 – 8 ounce jar maraschino cherries, cut in half and well drained
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
- Preheat oven to 300F. Prepare six (approx. 6 x 3.5 inches) mini loaf pans or two (approx. 9 x 5 inch) full-size loaf pans by greasing and flouring thoroughly. Set aside.
- In small sauce pan, add the raisins and 2 cups water. Bring to boil, reduce to simmer and cook 15 minutes. Remove from heat, add 1 Tablespoon whiskey, cool completely.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cloves and cinnamon until well blended. Set aside.
- In another bowl, place the cooled raisins and their liquid, then add the brown sugar, melted shortening, 1 cup water, 1 Tablespoon whiskey, and the baking soda dissolved in water. Stir together well.
- Add about half of the flour mixture to this and stir until it starts to mix in, then add the remaining flour mixture, cherries, and nuts. Blend well but do not over beat.
- Divide into prepared pans.
- For mini loaf pans: bake 50 to 55 minutes or until tester comes out clean. For 9 x 5 inch loaf pans: bake 85 to 90 minutes or until tester comes out clean.
- Cool 15 minutes in pans, remove from pans to cooling rack, allow to cool completely. If giving as gifts, mini fruit cakes can remain in disposable pans to be wrapped and gifted.
DID YOU MAKE THIS?
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Lori Fogg, A Coalcracker In The Kitchen
Sharing coal region comfort foods and nostalgia
Born and raised “a coal miner’s daughter” in Schuylkill County in the Anthracite Region of Pennsylvania, I love to share recipes and memories of home with fellow “coalcrackers” and celebrate our unique blending of Eastern European and Pennsylvania Dutch heritage and cuisines here in northeast Pennsylvania.