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On Cooking Southern: Aunt Alline's Cherry Fruit Cake


By Laurie Triplette


Southernism of the Week About as handy as a back pocket on a shirt: That gizmo’s just about useless to the average person. Like a car engine warmer in southern Mississippi or an artificial Christmas tree at a Christmas tree farm.
Fruitcake gets a bad rap, often for good reason. But fruitcake’s noble origins are reason enough to at least think about this once-venerated treat.
Fruitcake is said to have originated as a long-term carryover for troops in ancient Rome and as a food for ancient Egyptians’ journey into the afterlife. The original recipes were for an uncooked cake formed from a mixture of pomegranate seeds, pine nuts, raisins, honey and barley mash. Slices of this ancient fruitcake packed a ton of energy as well as calories.
The Roman fruitcake probably wasn’t all that different from the uncooked versions concocted by our American backcountry cooks. Fruitcake as we came to know it, was composed of candied fruits, pecans and walnuts, crumbled grains and a splash of brandy, sherry, rum or whiskey. The nut component was ramped up in the South, where pecans flourish.
The Romans spread the cake to Europe, and the Crusaders carried it to the Middle East, where they began incorporating additional fruits and spices into the mix. The British adopted fruitcake during the 1400s, when they began importing Mediterranean fruits and lacing the cakes with alcohol.
Alline'sfruitcake-DSCN9549By the 16th century, Colonial sugar imports from the Americas and West Indies led to the development of candied fruits by European bakers – an additional technique for preserving the cake. Over time, cultures around the world adopted versions of the sugar-candied fruits in baked cakes, with varying degrees of alcohol and powdered sugar, which also helps to retard mold.
Depending on national locale, fruitcakes vary in density, fruit components, and construction. Most American and European fruitcakes are unfrosted, and may be light or dark in color, depending on content and amount of baking involved. New Zealand cakes are elaborately iced, and UK cakes often are covered in marzipan and royal icing, with applied embellishments. Japanese fruitcakes, which are simple and undecorated, are sold year round to eager Japanese consumers.
Fruitcake in the United States has been in decline, notably since the late Johnny Carson joked annually on The Tonight Show that there’s only one fruitcake in the world and that people keep re-gifting it. The Old Bride has been known to despise certain varieties of fruitcake, harking back to childhood holidays spent rolling out logs of uncooked versions for family.
But we shouldn’t give up on the treat as one of those passé foods from yester-year. Homemade fruitcake can be delicious.
Try the recipe below, which comes from our Appalachian family branch. If you don’t love it, there’s something wrong with you … just my opinion, of course.
Alline'sfruitcake-wholeDSCN9542Aunt Alline’s Cherry Fruit Cake
This family recipe by Alline Sherrill Annas was included in the Grace Chapel UMW cookbook. This batter is dense and big. I use three bowls – creaming the butter and sugar in the stand mixer, beating the egg whites in a small bowl with a hand mixer, and transferring everything into a 6-quart mixing bowl, beating with the hand mixer.
2 c all -purpose flour
1/2 lb candied pineapple
1 lb candied cherries
6 eggs, separated
1-1/2 oz lemon extract. optional
12-oz jar pineapple preserves
2 c all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
4 sticks (2 c) salted butter
16 oz (2 c) light brown sugar
2 c whole pecans
Preheat oven to 250˚F. Prepare a 10-inch tube pan by greasing bottom, lining with parchment paper, and greasing and flouring the parchment-lined bottom and sides.
Combine 2 c flour in a large bowl with the cherries and pineapple chunks. Roll gently with a large mixing spoon to coat the fruit completely and blend the excess flour into the batter. Set aside.
Beat the egg whites until foamy but not stiff. Set aside.
Sift second 2 cups of flour and baking powder together and set aside.
Cream butter and sugar. Mix in egg yolks, one at a time. Add lemon extract and pineapple preserves, mixing until blended. Transfer to large mixing bowl. Work in the floured fruit and the sifted flour, mixing until blended. The batter will be stiff but workable. Add nuts.
Fold in the egg whites until completely blended, stirring and folding in one direction only. Use large spoon to ladle the batter into the prepared tube pan, smoothing and evening the batter with a spatula.
Bake on center rack in preheated oven for 3-1/2 hours, until cake begins to pull away from the sides and toothpick inserted into top comes out clean. Remove to a rack to cool for about 30 minutes. Jiggle to loosen from pan and flip onto waxed paper to cool completely.
Wrap in waxed paper and store in tightly covered container. This fruitcake lends itself to drizzling with rum for an alcohol-infused fruitcake. (Wrap it in an alcohol-laced cheesecloth before storing and the cake will last a long time.)

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