91. Fruitcake by Committee

91. Fruitcake by Committee

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Merry Christmas!

Fruitcake by Committee

There is only one fruitcake in the entire world, and people keep sending it to each other.

~Johnny Carson

I knew you’re not supposed to lie at Christmas, but I was desperate. I was in the fifth grade when my teacher decided the class should share their family Christmas traditions. The project required a poster, written report and an example — a picture, or, if it was food, a sample.

The overachievers’ hands filled the air when the teacher asked for volunteers to share their family traditions. Going to midnight church services, baking cookies, decorating the tree and house with lights and treasured ornaments were mentioned quickly. Next came riding around town, looking at lights and even caroling. Marybeth and her family served Christmas dinner to the homeless. I didn’t want my family to appear weird by admitting we had no exciting traditions, so I blurted out, “We make fruitcakes and give them to friends and relatives.”

Who wanted to hear the reality? At Christmas all my crazy relatives came over for dinner and spent the evening arguing about who would take the leftovers home. So when my turn came, all I could come up with was the fruitcake story. The problem was that my family hated fruitcake.

The report and poster came easy. We had Encyclopedia Britannica. The main thing about fruitcake is that it isn’t cake. There is no chocolate icing and it tastes awful with ice cream. But it’s been around since Egyptian times. It’s been found in tombs. Roman soldiers carried it to battle because it lasted so long. Even the crusaders took bricks of fruitcake to Jerusalem. Victorians made it palatable by adding alcohol to it. There are probably a lot of people who like it, but no one I know.

Like everything in our home, my problem was discussed around the kitchen table. Mom got out the only cookbook we owned and looked up fruitcake. “When did you say this was due?”

“Next Monday.”

“Well, this says you need nine different candied fruits, spices, nuts and brandy. And you have to soak cheesecloth with brandy, whiskey or your favorite liquor and once a week brush the cakes with more liquor for a month or two or even three.”

“Hey Mom, what is our favorite liquor?” Trust my little brother to zero in on the liquor.

“We are a God-fearing family and there is no liquor of any kind in this house,” Granny said as she entered the kitchen to see what was going on. “What else do we need?” she asked my mom.

“Dried figs, candied pineapple, dried currants, candied citron, cherries, orange peel, dates, raisins, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, flour, molasses and a bunch of other stuff,” Mom read from the cookbook. “None of which we have.”

“Sounds disgusting,” my sister said. “What are currants and citron?”

“I don’t know,” I replied, “but I’ve seen that candied fruit and it all looks like little pieces of neon green, yellow and red plastic.”

“Currants are black things, a type of raisin, only with a tart, tangy taste. Citron is some sort of citrus, a lumpy yellow-greenish looking fruit. I think it tastes sort of lemony,” Mom said.

“Way to go, Mom.” I was impressed. My mother wasn’t much of a cook, much less a baker.

“Here’s an unbaked fruitcake recipe,” Granny announced as she flipped through the cookbook. “It takes marshmallows, candied cherries, coconut, pecans and walnuts, vanilla wafers, raisins and sweetened condensed milk. You mix it all together and chill it overnight in the refrigerator or you can freeze it. No liquor. It makes nineteen rolled logs. This we can do. You can take some to school Monday and we can eat some and give away some.”

“Sounds good.” I was thrilled. My family had come through. We now had a family Christmas tradition. Problem solved.

“I don’t like coconut and I hate candied cherries.”

“I don’t want vanilla wafers and I absolutely don’t want walnuts.”

“It doesn’t matter what you want,” I objected as my brother and sister made their dislikes known. “It’s my school project.”

“But we have to eat it, too,” my sister replied.

“I’ll tell you what,” Granny intervened. “We’ll leave out the coconut, add dates, and replace the vanilla wafers with graham crackers. Then double the pecans and skip the walnuts, and finally replace the candied cherries with maraschino cherries.” And we did.

It was the best-tasting unbaked fruitcake in the world. I got an A! Even the teacher, who hated fruitcake, liked it.

Marybeth, one of those overachievers, got an A+ because nothing tops serving Christmas dinner to the homeless.

My Family’s Unbaked Christmas Fruitcake

6 or 7 cups chopped pecans

16 oz. dates

2 cups raisins

2 one-pound boxes of graham crackers

1 large jar (28 oz.) of maraschino cherries

2 pounds of marshmallows

1 can sweetened condensed milk

1/2 cup sugar

Drain cherries and keep juice. Crush graham crackers very fine; chop nuts, dates, raisins and cherries. Mix together in a very large bowl or roasting pan. Melt marshmallows with one tablespoon of the cherry juice, condensed milk and sugar over low heat; add to mixture. Mix all together with clean hands. (If dry, pour more juice from the cherries a little at a time. If too wet or gooey, add more crushed graham crackers.) Shape into rolls. Cover with plastic wrap then foil. Chill overnight. Keep in the refrigerator or freeze. (Lasts a long time in freezer, can make well ahead of Christmas.) ENJOY.

~Jeri McBryde

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