For generations, fruitcake has been the butt of many holiday jokes: likened to a less tasty doorstop, given as a gift to someone you actually hate, etc. The concept of fruitcake reappears in sarcastic holiday conversations year after year. It’s loathed, but it doesn’t have to be.
I never actually knew anyone my age that ever ate fruitcake, largely due to its negative reputation in TV and movies across the decades. This quote from the late, great, Aunt Edna from National Lampoon’s Vacation pretty much sums it up:
Aunt Edna: You’re the ones who sent me the fruitcake for Christmas. It made me so sick!
Ellen: Oh—we’re sorry. We thought you enjoyed fruitcake.
Aunt Edna: Do you enjoy throwing up every five minutes, Claude?
So, we get it. It’s gross. It’s dry. The “fruit” inside it is possibly just chippings of Yankee Candle wax. But recently, the fruitcake game changed for me forever.
See, fruitcake appears on my family’s holiday table every year, and I’m not kidding when I say that it is an absolute showstopper. Part of me wondered if people were just trying to be polite when they raved about it. But when you’re being polite about food you don’t actually like, you’re going to take one, maybe two bites, and then make a big to-do about how full you are. You might even ask to have it wrapped up “to go” to add color to your fibs.
Instead, what I have observed over the years is a whole group of guests grabbing multiple slices of this fruitcake, eating every last crumb, and then talking excitedly about it. I’ve never heard people talk about a fruitcake the way people talk about this fruitcake. I had never touched the stuff until last year when I reached for a slice to see what the hype was about.
And then I understood. It’s not that fruitcake as a concept is delicious–it’s that this fruitcake is delicious. The recipe I’m about to share is easily 70+ years old. My late, great Aunt Jane was the fruitcake master. Like all of us, she enjoyed expressing love through dishes served with a heavy side of sass. In my aunt’s small Midwestern farm town this fruitcake was her claim to fame, and she didn’t want just anyone getting the accolades that belonged to her.
At the time she passed this recipe down to my mom, I’m sure the very idea of publishing her treasured recipe on the internet would have been considered sacrilege. But when we let people take their recipes to the grave, we all miss out. I believe in sharing the wealth and keeping memories of our loved ones alive by continuing to use their recipes after they are gone.
With that said, I am confident that this is the reboot/comeback/revival that fruitcake deserves.
Yield: 2 cakes
- 1½ cups flour
- 1½ cups Sugar
- 1 tsp. baking powder
- 1 lb. candied or dried sweetened pineapple chunks
- 1 lb. whole dates, pitted
- 2 (16-oz.) jars maraschino cherries, without stems, drained
- 5½ cups walnut or pecan halves
- 6 eggs, beaten
- 1/3 cup light rum
- 8 oz. Karo light corn syrup
Preheat your oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Line two 9x5” loaf pans with aluminum foil, then grease them well with shortening. Be careful not to poke holes in the foil while greasing—if you do, simply add another layer of foil and grease again.
In a very large mixing bowl, whisk together your dry ingredients, and then mix in your fruits and nuts. In a separate bowl, combine the eggs and rum. Pour that mixture over the fruit mixture until all ingredients are incorporated and coated. Fill bread pans evenly while pressing the mixture down firmly with the back of a fork or spoon to eliminate air pockets.
Bake the loaves on the center rack of the oven for 1 hour and 45 minutes until a cake tester comes out clean. Remove the pans and cool them for 15 minutes, then lift the cakes by the foil to transport them onto cake racks. Glaze the cakes by brushing Karo syrup on the tops and sides.
When glazed cakes are completely cool, wrap each tightly in wax or parchment paper and store in the refrigerator. To serve, cut slices with a serrated knife, then cut each slice in half. Enjoy, and welcome fruitcake back to the holiday party—indefinitely!