By Susan M. Thigpen © 1983-2012
Issue: December, 1983
When I was a child and Christmas rolled around, one of the most enjoyable parts of it was the day Mother decided to bake the fruit cakes. Our whole family was involved. My father cracked and shelled the nuts and my sister and I got to help chop the candied fruit. We were allowed to eat one whole candied cherry each and occasionally nibble a little of the other fruits and nuts.
My mother usually saved several pieces of pineapple and cherries to decorate the tops of the cakes. She would bake two or three at the same time for us to eat and to share with other family and friends throughout the holidays. The aroma of those cakes baking on a Saturday afternoon was absolutely irresistible! Mother would bake one cake smaller than the rest and we would cut it hot, right out of the oven. It was a yearly tradition we all looked forward to from year to year.
Fruit cake has been a part of traditional Christmas cooking since George Washington’s day. There are many variations and they usually have their roots in the fact that when the cook didn’t have the ingredients called for in the “receipt,” she started substituting on her own.
Candied fruit was usually a prime ingredient but which ones varied to what was available. My grandmother saved the rinds of oranges and candied them to put in her fruit cake along with her homegrown and candied citron. Raisins were also usually a basic fruit.
Some people made the cakes as much as a month in advance and “seasoned” them every few days with a thimble full of rum or other spirits. (A friend of mine told me he once got into big trouble as a small child when he was caught spooning up and drinking the “spirits” that were supposed to be soaking into the fruit cake.) Overheard in many a lady’s Sunday school class around the holiday season is the comment, “If you see me going into a liquor store, I’m just buying a bottle to baste my fruit cake.”
Here in the mountains, apples were the fruit in abundance, so an apple spice cake replaced the usual fruit cake in many homes. I have printed two recipes here, a traditional fruit cake and the apple spice cake. The apple spice cake is the recipe of Mrs. “Cap” Ayers of Meadows of Dan. Her son Ellis says she bakes two a year, one at Thanksgiving and one at Christmas. Ellis is in his 40’s and it’s still one of the high points of his year. I’ve baked her recipe myself and it’s every bit as good as he brags on it.
Whether you bake a traditional fruit cake or try the apple spice cake, the choice is yours. They’re both delicious!
Apple Spice Cake
2 cups apple sauce
1 teaspoon soda (Mix soda with the applesauce)
2 cups brown sugar
1 cup black walnuts
1 cup shortening
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups raisins
1 cup grated raw apples
ground cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg to your taste
2 1/2 cups plain flour
Mix all of the ingredients together, adding the flour last. Bake for one hour and ten to twenty minutes in a 250 degree oven.
Traditional Fruit Cake
1 pound candied pineapple
1 pound candied cherries
1 pound candied citron
2 pounds white raisins
1 pound chopped nuts
1 pound butter
1 pound eggs
1 1/4 pound flour
1 pound powdered sugar
1/2 glass grape juice
Chop all fruits and nuts to bite size. Dredge fruit in 1/4 pound of the flour. Mix everything and bake in greased and floured tube pans in a 250 degree oven until done. (Takes a little over an hour.)