WILLIAM RUTHERFORD: A holiday cake

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“Just try it,” Grandma Mackenzie giggles as she offers me a bite of her 10-week, alcohol-drenched fruitcake. I accept a small slice of the dark, dense, rum-soaked bread, take a whimsical sniff and wonder out loud if an 8-year-old should consume something with this much alcohol? My mom nods approvingly at my question, so I place the entire piece in my mouth and begin to chew. My mom is wrong.

Inhaling the Jamaican spice rum fumes, I cough violently, spitting crumbs of candied cherries, pineapples, figs and walnuts into my surprised grandmother’s hair. Her giggles turn quickly to yells.

“Control your child,” my grandmother screams at my mother who immediately grabs my arm and pulls me toward the door to ensure the remaining contents of my mouth hit the ground instead of my grandmother’s face.

As I struggle to catch my breath, I look up and notice my mom is crying. Once again, the actions of one of my mother’s children create anger and disappointment in her mother-in-law, something lost on the innocence of a little boy.

Fruitcake will prove to create disappointment throughout my life. In fourth grade, I receive a fruitcake in our classroom Christmas gift exchange. I remember as if it was today, holding the cake in my little hands while watching in disbelief as other kids laugh unwrapping dolls, trucks, candy and toys. I remember thinking, “Fruitcake isn’t a gift; it’s food. What kind of kid gives another kid food as a gift?”

Christmas is my favorite holiday, and each year as a child I am excited to join my neighbors at the Christmas Fair in our hometown. Being a lover of food and everything Christmas, I eagerly enter the fruitcake-eating contest. Sitting next to my friends Gener and Marty, I eye the oversized piece of cake on the plate in front of me and strategize how to eat the dark molasses bread before my buddies. The bell rings and I quickly bow my head and begin to devour the cake with hands tied behind my back.

Bite after bite the cake quickly disappears and I feel victory within my reach, when suddenly, without warning, what once was consumed is now reversing its path and exiting my body. Embarrassed and ashamed I run out of the fair.

In the clear, cold winter air I catch my breath and search for solace. As I begin to relax in the quiet winter snow, I hear Grandma Mackenzie tell my mom, “You should not let that boy eat fruitcake. It just doesn’t agree with him.” My mom nods in agreement.

Being an adventurous eater, I wish to reverse my past negative experience with fruitcake. I believe if I make the cake, it will be delicious and I will be able to celebrate this traditional cake of Christmas once more.

On Black Friday, my daughter and I buy the ingredients for the world’s best fruitcake and on the following Sunday, begin a new Rutherford family tradition. We bake four cakes, each slightly different, bound each cake in cheesecloth, soak each cake in rum and wrap each cake in foil.

Christmas morning will tell the tale. Either I celebrate the world’s most delicious fruitcake with morning coffee and Christmas carols or I will throw up. I guess time will tell?

I borrow this recipe from the Mayo Clinic. I play with it a bit by adding more and less fruit, different juices and make one with all wheat flour. You can delete the rum and add apple juice instead if you wish to avoid the alcohol. If you choose not to use the rum, serve immediately after removing the cake from the pan.

Ingredients

2 cups assorted chopped dried fruit, such as cherries, currants, dates or figs

1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce

1/2 cup crushed pineapple

Zest and juice of 1 medium orange

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

1/2 cup rum

2 tablespoons real vanilla extract

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup milled flax (flaxseed flour)

1/2 cup oat flour (can make by putting rolled oats in a food processor)

1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 cup crushed or chopped walnuts

Directions

In a medium bowl, combine dried fruit, applesauce, pineapple, rum, fruit zests and juices, and vanilla. Let soak for 15 to 20 minutes.

In a large bowl, mix sugar, milled flax, oat flour, pastry flour, baking soda and baking powder. Pour fruit and liquid mixture into dry ingredients and stir to combine. Add egg and walnuts and stir to combine.

Pour the mixture into a loaf pan lined with parchment (baking) paper and bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour, or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the fruitcake rest for 30 minutes before removing it from the pan. Wrap in cheesecloth, soak with rum, wrap in foil and allow to “mature” for 4-10 weeks, reapplying rum every other week.

• • •

Send comments or other suggestions to William Rutherford at bprutherford@hotmail.com or visit pensiveparenting.com.

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