The holiday season is fast approaching. Fortunately, retailers have not yet realized that September is the perfect month for putting out Christmas decorations (though with the ongoing retail arms race, they may get there in a few years), leaving the field wide open for…fruitcake!
I love making fruitcake. Not the dry, tasteless fruit brick that appears in shops around Christmastime – real fruitcake, with all kinds of tasty goodies in it, lovingly sprinkled with liquor once a week for six weeks, then given an extra month for all the flavors to mellow together. A good fruitcake is like fine wine: while you can eat it right out of the oven, it only reaches the height of its complex, delicious flavor if allowed to age first.
Because good fruitcake takes time, August and early September are fruitcake-making time, at least in this household. (And thank goodness I can beat the retailers to the gun on SOMETHING!)
Of course, you can take fruitcake-aging too far. The Antarctic Heritage Trust reports that a 106-year-old fruitcake has been found in the huts used by early Antarctic explorers, and was probably part of Captain Robert Scott’s doomed expedition, as he attempted to reach the South Pole in 1911. The fruitcake tin was rusted through, but the fruitcake itself was in excellent condition. Lizzie Meek of the Antarctic Heritage Trust reported, “There was a very, very slight rancid butter smell to it, but other than that, the cake looked and smelled edible!”
Because my fruitcakes contain 16 kinds of fruits, nuts, and candied citrus peel, it’s not practical to make just one fruitcake. (Especially since I candy all the fruit and citrus peels myself, so they come in pint jars.) Since I don’t want to skimp on the additions, and anything worth doing is worth overdoing, I typically make quite a few fruitcakes. This year, I made 6 large fruitcakes and 10 small ones. They contained 17.5 pounds of goodies:
Plus 7 quarts of cake batter:
Mixed into a lusciously full-of-treats batter:
…baked in a 275-degree oven for 2.5 hours…
…until golden brown:
Now they’re wrapped in plastic wrap and nestled into clean loaf pans, ready to be sprinkled with liquor. One tablespoon of liquor for the big cakes, half a tablespoon for the little cakes, once a week for six weeks. 1/3 of the cakes are being soaked with rum, 1/3 with bourbon whiskey, and 1/3 with a mix of Amaretto and Southern Comfort.
Of course, the arrival of fruitcake season foreshadows the beginning of chocolate season….the test kitchen won’t open until mid-October, but I’m already starting to think about potential new flavors!