Love it or hate it, fruitcake is one of Christmastime’s most iconic foods. I make no apologies for being one who loves it, and over the years I’ve amassed quite a collection of recipes from sources near and far. While we might credit our Irish mother or grandmother with carrying on the holiday fruitcake-making tradition, we can look even further into history to uncover its possible origin. Ancient Egyptians left fruit-and-nut cakes in graves, the theory being that they would provide sustenance in the afterlife; Romans mixed raisins, pine nuts, pomegranate seeds, and honeyed wine into barley cakes to feed soldiers; in the 1400s, prized dried and preserved fruits and nuts were traded westward from the Middle East to Europe where they were baked into cakes; and they became very popular in England where Victorians loved to have fruitcakes with their tea (don’t we all?) In eighteenth-century Europe, fruitcake was eaten around the winter solstice to mark the annual nut harvest, making the cakes popular at Christmastime. For lovers of both dark and light fruitcakes, have a look at my Festive Flavors of Ireland cookbook that contains both. Signed copies are available at irishcook.com.
Nollaig shona duit. . .Happy Christmas to you!
Bushmills Boiled Fruitcake
Makes 1 large or 4 to 5 small loaves
This fruitcake, which has been in my collection of recipes for two decades, is an interesting one. The dried and candied fruits are cooked with butter, brown sugar, and crushed pineapple before being mixed with the dry ingredients, a technique that produces a very moist cake.
1 (20-ounce) can crushed pineapple, undrained
4 ounces butter
1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar
2 cups golden raisins
1/2 cup candied cherries, chopped
1/2 cup fruit and peel mix
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice or Mixed Spice (see Note)
2 large eggs, beaten
2 to 3 tablespoons Bushmills Irish whiskey, for drizzling
Note: To make Mixed Spice, combine 1 tablespoon coriander seeds, 1 crushed cinnamon stick, 1 teaspoon whole cloves, and 1 teaspoon allspice berries in a spice or coffee grinder. Process until finely ground. Stir in 1 tablespoon nutmeg and 2 teaspoons ginger. Store in an airtight container.