When my sister and I were little, we would make the annual trek to Aunt Mariana and Uncle Doodle’s house for a holiday visit. Aunt Mariana would reach up high into her pantry and take down the fruitcake we were forced to eat each Christmas.
My sister and I would politely taste a forkful of this brown crumbly creation studded with eerily bright red and green fruits. We would take one bite and then cover the remaining bits with our napkins. Reading each other’s minds we would both think, “yes, but where’s the frosting?”
Children hate fruitcake. But many decades later, those early negative impressions were replaced by a romantic afternoon’s experience, on a rainy October day looking out over Lake Como, consuming the local fig and nut cake washed down by grappa. What a difference time (and grappa and a romantic companion) can make.
This season —after years of building a fan base on two coasts for my labor-intensive Christmas cookies—I’ve decided to wade into deeper, more mythic culinary territory. Yes, I’m making fruitcake this year. Armed with Lisa Jensen’s great-aunt’s recipe—but only as a working blueprint which I will revise into oblivion—I have built an arsenal of nuts, dried fruits, and yes, whisky.
Aunt Mariana didn’t have all the choices that I do in terms of organic dried cherries, figs, cranberries, hand-made candied orange and lemon peel, crystallized ginger. Though she did have booze. As Lisa has advised me, I will be putting together a huge menagerie of nuts, fruits, spices, butter, eggs, molasses and, yes, whisky—and making my first-ever fruitcake the day after Thanksgiving. I cannot wait!