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Mrs. Carey's Fruit Cake

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Posted 11-23-2010 at 04:06 PM by MerryCarey

Some of you may know that my father passed away in October, leaving me the last surviving member of the family I grew up in. It also leaves me the sole owner and guardian of a well-worn index card that bears a typed recipe with handwritten amendments, and is stained with baking ingredients and years of use.

Fruitcake was never a joke in our house. I suppose I was in high school before I was aware that in many households, Christmas fruitcake was a despised object of ridicule. But not the fruitcake my parents made from a recipe passed down through my family. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, various friends and neighbors never failed to remind my parents: “Don’t forget to save me some fruitcake again this year!”

On Thanksgiving Day, our kitchen was always busy—but not with turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce. Instead, our kitchen table groaned with ingredients and a huge roasting pan in which my mother and father compounded the batter for their famous fruitcakes, mixing the ingredients with their hands like children mixing mud pies. The cakes had to be baked on Thanksgiving so they could age and mellow in the spare refrigerator in the basement during the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

I never missed having a big turkey dinner on Thanksgiving. My Thanksgivings consisted of other traditions that I cherished just as dearly. To keep us out of their hair and their baking, my parents sent my brother and me next door to our grandparents to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. My grandparents had a color television set a few years before we did, so it was an extra-special treat to see the big annual spectacle in color. My brother and I each munched on a small box of cookies bought especially to enjoy with the parade. After Santa Claus had made his holiday debut in front of Macy’s, my grandmother provided us with a simple lunch of ham sandwiches, potato chips, and orange soda. Oh, how I miss those ham sandwiches! My grandfather had his own recipe for curing country hams that tasted mellower and less salty that ordinary country hams. Every holiday dinner and family occasion featured, alongside the turkey, a plate piled high with cold slices of his country ham. The flavor of that ham is long lost and deeply missed.

After lunch my father came over to my grandparents’ to watch football with my grandfather and my brother—my cue to cross the driveway and return home. At that point, once I had a record player of my own, I dashed to my room to enjoy Christmas albums, which I was free to enjoy now that the season was officially under way. According to my mother, playing Christmas music before Thanksgiving—apart from practicing my piece for my piano teacher’s annual recital—was considered “too early.”

The memory of those Thanksgiving mornings is still sweet. I remember how right it felt that everything was happening again the same way, just as it had the year before: the dawn of another Christmas season, called forth by pounds and pounds of flour, sugar, nuts, currants, and candied fruit, and the mysterious rituals of mixing and baking that turned them into long-awaited fruitcakes. You may find it hard to believe, but I never tasted that legendary fruitcake. Once when I was small, I asked my mother what it tasted like. She replied, “You wouldn’t like it.” And that was that—it was a Grownup Thing, and I never questioned it, even when I was old enough to be a Grownup myself. But I can still remember the aroma of baking fruitcake that scented the kitchen when I returned home early in the afternoon on Thanksgiving Day.

Now I’m the last surviving member of the family, and the sole guardian of that hallowed fruitcake recipe. I don’t have a family of my own to pass it on to. Instead, I’d like to pass it on to all of you who believe that such as thing as good fruitcake can, and does, exist. It can’t be found wrapped in supermarket cellophane, but it can be found in a warm kitchen on Thanksgiving morning. I hope this recipe will reward your faith.

Mrs. Carey’s Fruit Cake

12 eggs
1 lb. butter
1 lb. sugar or 2 cups
1 lb. flour or 4 cups
3 lbs. raisins
2 lbs. currants
2 teaspoons nutmeg or cinnamon
½ lb. citron
1 lb. candied cherries
½ lb. candied pineapple
1 lb. nuts (4 cups)
1 glass strawberry preserves
1 water glass wine [My parents used wine that my grandmother made]
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons cream

Cream butter and sugar. Separate egg whites and egg yolks. Add beaten egg yolks to creamed mixture. Beat in 2 tablespoons cream. Add strawberry preserves. Add wine. Then add sifted flour, baking powder, and nutmeg. Dredge the cut-up fruit and nuts in ¼ pound of flour. Add to mixture. Add egg whites last.

Grease and flour two tube pans. Put wax paper in bottom of pans. Bake at 275 degrees for 3 hours. After 1½ hours, put a pan of water on the rack beneath the cakes.

The recipe ends there, but I remember that each cake was wrapped in white cloth soaked in my grandmother’s homemade wine, and overwrapped in aluminum foil. The wrapped cakes were kept in a refrigerator until shortly before Christmas, when they were cut and distributed among a selected few, some receiving slices and others receiving half a cake as a Christmas gift. The cakes were decorated with egg whites beaten to a froth and brushed lightly on top as a base for red and green cherries and pecan halves. When the egg whites were dry, they resembled a light dusting of snow.

P.S.—If anyone gives the recipe a try, let me know what you think.
Posted in Christmas Foods
Views 3652 Comments 6
Total Comments 6


  1. Old Comment
    [B]Thank you so much for this recipe and for this blog entry. You are an amazing writer. I could read what you write for hours and hours !! The recipe sounds DELICIOUS !!! xo[/B]
    Posted 11-24-2010 at 04:25 AM by caninemom3 caninemom3 is offline
  2. Old Comment
    xmas365's Avatar
    Thank you for thinking of sharing this with us, I am not a fan of fruitcake myself, but somewhere down the line I may try to make it for someone
    Posted 11-24-2010 at 07:55 AM by xmas365 xmas365 is offline
  3. Old Comment
    Bullypup's Avatar
    What a great blog. The fruitcake images remind me so much of "A Christmas Memory". One of my favorite reads and a very well done movie as well.
    Posted 02-11-2011 at 12:21 PM by Bullypup Bullypup is offline
  4. Old Comment
    Christmas-A-Holic's Avatar
    That is a beautiful memory! Thanks for sharing! =)
    Posted 11-26-2011 at 10:02 AM by Christmas-A-Holic Christmas-A-Holic is online now
  5. Old Comment
    Holiday's Avatar
    I loved reading this story! I can just picture your parents kitchen on Thanksgiving morning! Thanks for sharing!
    Posted 08-23-2012 at 09:53 AM by Holiday Holiday is offline
  6. Old Comment
    GingerMel's Avatar
    Thanks so much for this story and recipe.
    Posted 10-16-2012 at 03:05 PM by GingerMel GingerMel is offline
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