Most fruitcakes I’ve seen are either heavy and dry or heavy and soaked with some kind of alcohol. And then there are those candied fruits… the less said about them the better.
The traditional fruitcake actually does have some centuries of tradition behind it:
They were carried by Roman legionnaires and Middle Age crusaders as travel food.
Fruit candied in sugar helped preserve it.
Soaking fruitcakes in rum or another spirit helps preserve it for consumption at a later time.
Fruitcakes were a good way to keep fruits from the summer so they could be eaten during the winter.
While fruitcakes are popular, and even enjoyed, in many countries, they seem to have a different reputation here in the US. Here they are the brunt of jokes. Even Johnny Carson jumped on the anti-fruitcake bandwagon when he quipped, "The worst gift is fruitcake. There is only one fruitcake in the entire world, and people keep sending it to each other." There are even fruitcake tossing contests to be found during the holiday season.
Someone must like them, though. There are a few bakeries about the country who sell out their entire production of tens of thousands of fruitcakes each season.
Me, I’ve got issues with normal fruitcakes. I personally don’t care for the taste of alcoholic beverages and I’m not real fond of candied fruits. But for some reason I was fascinated with fruitcake and was determined to find a fruitcake recipe that was not only edible, but actually enjoyable.
For awhile I scanned through cookbooks in used book stores hoping to find something good. When that didn't work I began looking for recipes on the internet. Nothing was really looking good until Fayme found a “golden fruitcake” on a Disney website. Upon further research, I discovered that this is a rather famous recipe. It’s called Mrs. Harvey’s White Fruitcake. If you do a Google search you'll find this wonderful recipe spread all over the internet.
Photo of Mrs. Lucille Harvey courtesy Jeff Houck and The Tampa Tribune
A couple people have asked me, "where's the recipe?" I guess I didn't make the link to the recipe very clear. Mea culpa and my apologies. You can still click the link above but here is the recipe:
4 cups shelled pecans
1 lb. candied cherries
1 lb. candied pineapple
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 lb. butter
1 cup granulated sugar
5 large eggs
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 to 2 oz. vanilla extract
1 to 2 oz. lemon extract
Chop the nuts and the fruit into medium-sized pieces and dredge with 1/4 cup flour.
In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until they are light and fluffy. Add well-beaten eggs and blend well.
In a small bowl, sift the remaining flour and baking powder together. Fold this mixture into the egg and butter mixture, and mix in the vanilla and lemon extract. Blend in fruits and nuts.
Grease pan and line the pan(s) with parchment, foil or waxed paper. Pour the batter into prepared pan(s). Place in a cold oven and bake at 250 degrees for 1 to 3 hours (the baking time varies with the size of the pan).
Mrs. Harvey and I do differ in a couple areas: I don’t use candied fruits and I don’t put nuts in my version. I like nuts, and I like cookies, brownies, etc. - but I don’t like nuts in my cookies, brownies, or etc. So, no nuts or candied fruits in my version.
Rather than use those green cherries and other odd candied fruits I get some really good quality dried fruits from Trader Joe’s. Their selection can change depending upon what their suppliers have available so I get whatever dried fruit looks good when I visit: strawberries, cherries, cranberries, blueberries, apricots, raspberries, pineapple (unsweetened), golden raisins, etc. If it’s a dried fruit you like to eat, toss it in!
Prior to mixing these fruits into the batter I always reconstitute them with an overnight soak in apple juice. This keeps the fruit moist and juicy. Large pieces like apricots and pineapple get cut into smaller pieces before soaking.
When mixing the soaked fruit into the batter I use an amount that looks right. My apologies to those of you who really want to know exactly how much to use, I just don’t normally cook like that.
Here is the photo journal of the making of my version of Mrs. Harvey's White Fruitcake:
First up are the fruits I used this year. Those dried mangos looked really good so I grabbed them.
The dried papaya was camera shy... actually, I found it stashed in a cupboard after I took the picture.
The mangos, papaya, apricots and figs needed to be cut a little smaller. The mangos seemed a little tough so I cut them into relatively small strips. After soaking in apple juice they were fine.
Mix in the apple juice to reconstitute the dried fruits; I probably used about a cup and a half of juice.
Ready to soak overnight.
All the ingredients gathered together and ready for assembly. It may look like a lot but I'll likely be making two double batches.
All mixed and ready for the tins.
We had a minor panic when I couldn't find the tins where I thought they were. Glad that got resolved.
Out of the oven and cooling off.
Let's see... I need to send one to Dad in Oregon, I'm sure Mom would like one, Uncle Teddy in Canada may want one, definately need to send one to a particular redhead in Texas, I think a cherished friend in New Mexico would like one, Fayme's already asking if she can have some for dessert tonight... Jeez, I'd better get busy on the second batch!
Correction: I have been informed that Fayme doesn't want the fruitcake for dessert, she wants it now!