Our neighbor down the street stopped us yesterday on our walk and yelled at his son to go into the house to “get us a little something.” His gift turned out to be a small sweet potato custard, a family holiday favorite that he and his son had just finished making. We often pause to say hello and chat with the fellow, an African-American gentleman who uses a wheelchair and cane for his mobility. He also fixes and restores cars and our conversations over the years have ranged from the weather and classic cars to cooking and race relations. Carrying the warm sweet potato custard home, I was glad to have a little something to gift back: fruitcake.
I know . . . you may be rolling your eyes but my family likes fruitcake. It is like a giant version of Vietnamese mooncake (banh Trung Thu) with all the sweetmeats, nuts, and liquor. American friends would gift them to my parents when we first arrived in America and my husband’s aunt would make them for Christmas. Alas, those sources are gone so I make my own, with tropical Asian elements such as candied ginger and citron (e.g., Buddha’s hand), as well as cashews, black pepper and lime leaf.
There are many recipes for fruitcake, as I discovered while paging through the “Cakes” volume of Time Life’s Good Cook Series from the early 1980s. Some are for weddings, some are “white,” most are for the holidays. In the fall, dried nuts and fruit are a great way to savor past harvests. Their jewel tone colors are gorgeous too.
Then there’s the booze – my favorite part of fruitcake. Lots of it to flavor and moisten the dense cake. After decades of eating and making fruitcake I had this realization this year: If you like trail mix and liquor, you gotta like fruitcake. It’s essentially those ingredients held together in cake batter.
Here’s how I made this year’s batch – which I baked in large and small pans for family and friends.