Looking for Really Good Fruitcake?

FruitcakeWhen I was a child, my North Carolina grandmother used to make us a fruitcake every year using pecans from the tree in her yard (among many other things).  It would arrive in a round metal tin, wrapped inside in an old cotton kitchen towel that had been saturated in bourbon.  Needless to say, it was tasty.  I’m pretty sure she used those candied fruits but I don’t remember them being those radioactively bright colors that we see in the stores now in the produce aisle.

Grandmama’s fruitcake was dark, dense and very moist, not to mention boozy, and it reminded me of the fruitcake that Queenie and Buddy made in Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory.  That fruitcake does not exist in the store; you have to make it.

Last year, in a quest to find fruitcake that tasted like my memory of fruitcake, I actually bought one online from some monks who bake and sell them for income.  Contrary to the testimonials, not to mention the price, the taste didn’t do anything for me and I ended up throwing it out rather than eat inferior fruitcake.

Some friends and I were chatting on Twitter this week about fruitcake and someone posted a link to Alton Brown’s Free Range Fruitcake which has more ingredients than anything else I’ve ever made in my life.  I love Alton, though, and the quantity of dried fruits and rum appealed to me.  So yesterday on the way home from work, I stocked up on a ton of things from dried cherries to apple juice to brandy and rum, and made the recipe.

Oh. My. God.  It smelled amazing.  The batter on the edges of the bowl tasted amazing. Although it’s supposed to sit for a few days/weeks for flavors to meld properly, I couldn’t help myself and cut a small slice – and almost moaned in ecstasy.  THIS is fruitcake, my friends: dense, moist, rich with plump flavored fruit, and with the wonderful zing of the brandy and rum used in and on the cake.

So if you are a fruitcake lover – and yes, I do know that many of you are reading this and thinking that I am crazy – you need to try Alton Brown’s Free Range Fruitcake recipe.  I made it exactly as written, only substituting ground spices for the whole allspice berries and whole cloves.  I don’t have a 10″ loaf pan but there was so much batter that I easily made 2 smaller loaf pans (8.5″, I think) which were ready in 42 min. instead of the hour needed for the recipe as written.

Even if you don’t want to make it yourself, do go read the recipe.  Yummmmm.  I’m even going to make another batch, baste with brandy as called for in the recipe, and taking to Texas for Christmas.

Traditional Thanksgiving Food

Inflatable TurkeyI have a weakness for mincemeat, especially enhanced with brandy or rum. Yesterday I bought a jar – even though I knew it was a bad idea – and managed to eat almost the whole thing before finally tossing the last bits. I felt stuffed and slightly nauseous and don’t think I’m going to succumb to the temptation again any time soon. Once a season is usually enough. Though if someone were to offer me some really good fruitcake, I could do some damage. I love fruitcake. But I’m not going to buy any for myself. I’m not that crazy.

It’s interesting how certain foods are traditional in some families and not others, and how traditions develop. My mom grew up having turnips on her Thanksgiving table, despised them, and vowed they would never appear in her kitchen. So I never had them and didn’t miss them because she told me they were awful. My family has turkey, of course, with a simple bread stuffing that’s cooked inside the turkey, not in a separate pan. We also have cornbread dressing, brought to us by my sister in law who grew up having that instead. Now we have both.

I think we maybe used to have mashed potatoes, though certainly not in recent memory. But sweet potato casserole with oranges and those little marshmallows on top are a staple and devoured completely. Some kind of green vegetable – used to be that ubiquitous green bean casserole with little onions on top, but now I think maybe just plain beans. And the newest addition is sweet and sour red cabbage, brought to our table by a neighbor who brought a piece of their tradition when they began celebrating the day with us. It’s colorful and a nice change of color and texture.

The desserts are the usual pies but I’m not really a pie fan. I’d rather have cake if I’m going to do a dessert, especially chocolate cake. But cake somehow isn’t a traditional Thanksgiving thing. Do you think the Pilgrims actually made pecan pies in shiny pie tins and had them for dessert at that first supper? Highly unlikely. Apple or pumpkin are possible but I don’t really like either of those either. I’m weird.

Going to someone else’s holiday meal is fun but disconcerting because their traditions – and traditional foods – are different, and Thanksgiving is about tradition and family. And football, of course, though I did spend one year with friends watching a dog show and playing cards instead and actually liked it more. And had Chinese food one year with other friends, which was different.

I’m nervous about handling myself this year. I’ve been invited out but really would rather by myself at home where I can control the food and entertain myself with weird TV and a jigsaw puzzle. I’m alone but not lonely and this year I have my cat who might even get a can of kitty turkey dinner as a treat. Alone I would have roast chicken, a sweet potato, and steamed vegetables with a baked apple for dessert. No temptation of wine or rolls or “nibbly bits” as Rachel Ray calls them. And the desserts. Even though I’m not a pie person, I’m likely to eat them if they’re there.

Today the food was under control. No exercise but I did get out of the house for a while, paid bills, and tidied up a bit. And read a book and played with the cat. Weekends are for recharging and once I got over my little misadventure with the mincemeat, I enjoyed it a lot more.