by Jane Rodmell for All The Best Fine Foods, a ‘Certified Good Food Fighter’

At All The Best we bake up batches of our rich, dark fruit cake at the end of August, wrap it in brandy-soaked cheese-cloth and leave it to rest for a few months in readiness for the holiday season. The tradition continues and our 2010 Holiday Fruit Cake is now in the store.

The recipe comes from my grandmother’s Victorian kitchen. My mother grew up on the family farm in Moorlinch, a small, off-the-beaten-track village in England, situated on the edge of the Somerset Levels. For history and nature buffs…this is a fascinating part of England, rich in wild-life, legend and ghostly tales. The Levels are low-lying pastures, crisscrossed by a network of willow-lined waterways, often shrouded in mist. They were part of the Glastonbury Abbey estate from 970 until the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536. In the water-logged ground there are still remains of prehistoric wooden tracks preserved from Saxon times. The village church, still standing close to the farm, dates from the 13th century.

I can imagine my grandmother in her white-washed kitchen with flagstone floor, hand-churning pounds of butter, removing stones and pits from mounds of precious dried fruits, beating dozens of eggs with a whisk of twigs and keeping the wood stove burning for long hours. The resulting cakes were likely proudly served in thin slices to the vicar with tea, or a glass of sloe gin. It’s no wonder they were highly prized!

Coombe Farm Fruit Cake

The list of ingredients is long, but the baking method is simple. The smell in the kitchen while the cake is baking is intoxicating. Seek out good quality candied peels: avoid the mix of diced violently-hued varieties.

3 cups (750 ml) golden raisins
11/2 cups (375 ml) seeded raisins
¾ cup (175 ml) currants
1/2 cup (125 ml) cognac, dark rum or sherry
1 cup (250 ml) candied red cherries, halved

1 cup (250 ml) candied pineapple, slivered
½ cup (125 ml) candied citron, slivered
¼ cup (60 ml) candied lemon peel, slivered
¼ cup (60 ml) candied orange peel, slivered
1 cup (250 ml) slivered blanched almonds
1 cup (250 ml) chopped walnuts or pecans
2 cups (500 ml) sifted all-purpose flour
½ tsp (2 ml) ground mace
½ tsp (2 ml) ground cinnamon
½ tsp (2 ml) baking soda
½ cup (125 ml) butter
1 cup (250 ml) sugar
1 cup (250 ml) packed brown sugar
5 eggs, combined with
1 tbsp (15 ml) milk and 1 tsp (5 ml) almond extract

In a bowl, combine raisins and currants and sprinkle with cognac. Set aside, covered, for at least a day. The following day, in a very large bowl, combine macerated fruit, candied peels, cherries, pineapple and nuts. Combine thoroughly and toss with about ½ cup (125 ml) flour.

Lightly butter two 9-inch cake pans, or two 9 x 5x 3-inch loaf pans, and line with brown paper.

Preheat oven to 275°F (140°C)

Sift the remaining flour with spices and baking soda. Set aside.
In a large bowl, cream butter until soft and gradually add sugars, beating at medium speed until smooth. Stir in egg mixture and then flour mixture. Pour the batter over the fruit and nuts and, using your hands, mix all together well.

Lift the mixture into the prepared pans and pack down firmly, leaving no gaps. Place a shallow pan of water on the bottom rack of the preheated oven to keep the cakes moist. Set pans on the middle rack and bake for 21/4 to 21/2 hours, or until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out with no batter attached.  Set cakes to cool on racks for half an hour. Remove from pans, peel away paper and set aside to cool completely. Wrap in layers of brandy-soaked cheesecloth and store in covered containers in a cool place for at least four weeks.

Tip: Divide the mixture into 4 small pans to make cakes that make wonderful gifts for those who grew up in the fruitcake tradition. Adjust baking time to about 2 hours.

Happy Holidays and all the best,