The Christmas holiday season lends itself to all sorts of delicious sweets, and many recipes make an appearance only once a year. Maybe that explains why most cakes we enjoy during the holidays have such decadent ingredients: dates, lots of nuts and candied fruits.
History generally reports the ubiquitous fruitcake appeared in the Middle Ages in England, when the ingredients were exotic, expensive and difficult to find. So the treat was saved as a once-a-year extravagance. At that time, alcohol was used both as a flavoring and as a preservative; today, this ingredient isn’t necessary and is often omitted.
The baking process during this era also was arduous; a lot of preparation and hard work were necessary. Fruits were washed, dried, and the stone was removed. Sugar — which at that time was found in loaves or blocks — was cut, pounded and strained. Butter — again, nothing like our modern sticks — was washed and rinsed in rosewater. Recipes often called for a cook to beat the eggs for at least 30 minutes. Yeast was temperamental in those days and took some coaxing to do its work. Then, of course, there were the wood-burning ovens to be managed. All in all, baking was a full day’s work.
Another factor in the special nature of fruitcake is the fact that it is often — and it really should be — prepared far in advance of the holiday. The flavors blend and age, making each slice a rich, colorful treat worthy of a special holiday celebration.
Dried and fresh dates also are among the exotic ingredients generally available during the holidays. While not part of the ingredient list for fruitcake, dates are often combined with walnuts to create a delicious confection.
The beautiful date palm is found in desert regions; it likes the heat while its roots appreciate the wet conditions of an oasis. Believed to have originated around the Persian Gulf, the tree can be found in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt, northern Africa, India, southern Italy, Sicily and Greece. The plant is part of the national emblem of Saudi Arabia, representing vitality and growth, and fresh dates are an expected part of traditional Arabian hospitality, served with a small cup of Arabian coffee.
In whatever way fresh or dried dates are served, they are a treat you won’t forget.
CHRISTMAS DATE CAKE RECIPES
Inell Gilliam, Duffield, Virginia, requests a recipe for Date Nut Cake With Broiled Coconut Frosting. She says she remembers it from the 1950s, and that it was very good.
With the wide range of recipes sent in, it was difficult selecting only a few to share.
DATE AND NUT CAKE RECIPES
Gayle Workman, Houston, hopes someone has a recipe for Date Black Walnut Cake. She says it was included in a pamphlet published by a life insurance company in the late 1920s and early 1930s.
CHRISTMAS FRUIT CAKE RECIPES
Helen Guthrie, Ames, Iowa, has lost her favorite recipes, including one for Wall-to-Wall Fruitcake, which she says was nothing but nuts and dried fruit, and little else. "It was costly to make," she writes, "but worth it."
As luck would have it, one writer sends a recipe with that exact name.
SOUR CREAM CAKE RECIPES
"My mother made a similar fruitcake that she called simply Uncooked Fruitcake, and it too had nothing in it except dried fruit and nuts. She would make it in September, wrap it in foil in a loaf pan, and place a foil-wrapped brick on it for three months. When she sliced it thin, which is all you needed because it was so rich, the slices looked like stained glass." Carol says her mother’s recipe was lost, and while looking through an old cookbook, Recipes From Old Virginia, 1958, Carol spotted the recipe for Unbaked Fruit Cake, and she says it is very similar to her mother’s recipe.
"Instead of candied orange peel, she used the candy jelly orange slices that could be purchased at the candy counter of the Five & Dime. I don’t remember Mom using any extra sugar, salt or cinnamon, nutmeg or clove. It was simply fruit and nuts."
Senior Associate Editor Jean Teller is looking forward to trying the date and walnut cake this holiday season.
• Betsey Leale, Mineral, Virginia, writes, “Every Christmas, my husband’s father and grandmother would make herring salad, which was eaten as an appetizer. Dad passed away unexpectedly several years ago, and Grandma couldn’t remember exactly how the recipe went before she passed on. I have tried for several years now to find this recipe and would love to have it again. I know it contained herring, beets, and pickles or pickle relish. Any help would be appreciated.”
• Kathy Belt, Park Rapids, Minnesota, is looking for a fudge recipe that does not contain canned milk, either evaporated or condensed. She also is looking for recipes that use chokecherries. She has a chokecherry pie recipe that is too bitter, and she has plenty of jam and wine recipes.
• Sharon Whitney, Kennewick, Washington, recalls a recipe for a rice dish that appeared in GRIT in the 1980s. It also included beef, onions, bell peppers and button mushrooms. Her whole family loved the dish.
If you’ve been looking for a long-lost recipe, or can provide one, please write to Recipe Box, c/o GRIT, 1503 S.W. 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, address and daytime phone number. Recipes cannot be returned, as they are eventually sent to the person requesting the recipe. Recipe requests and responses will be printed at our discretion and as space allows. Addresses are not printed to allow GRIT the opportunity to publish recipes before sending them on to the requesting party.