Yes, it’s heavy as a brick, and lasts long enough that you can re-gift it year after year without anyone commenting on its shelf life having expired. Blame the Scots.
Early versions of the rich style fruitcake, such as what we know today as Scottish Black Bun, date from the Middle Ages, and were luxuries for special occasions. Slices would have been served on Twelfth Night. The dessert was later known as Scotch Christmas Bun before becoming Black Bun. From the Irish and English some Appalachian residents have come to know this type of fruitcake as Scotch bun, or Dundee cakes.
The heavily spiced, dense, chewy black mixture is made with dried fruit, nuts and whiskey a few months in advance of Hogmanay (New Year’s Eve) eating, in order to give it time to mature.
It’s wrapped in a shell of very thin, hard pastry to trap in the flavor over these months. It’s cut into slices for serving, as gingerbread would be, although it’s very different.
One’s definition of fruitcake in Appalachia depends on one’s ancestry. Folks in the region with English heritage might traditionally flavor fruitcakes with ginger and add candied peel to the dried fruits and nuts, sometimes soaking the cake in liqueurs, not whiskey.
And in German influenced households the stollen served at the holidays is fluffy and breadlike, much closer to the panetone found in Italian homes. Dresdner Christstollen, originating from Dresden, Germany, introduced marzipan into the mix.
“They always had fruitcake for Christmas,” relates Kentuckian Sidney Saylor Farr about her friend Nell Caldwell in More Than Moonshine. “But not your everyday traditional one made of candied fruits and nuts. There was no money to buy such things at the store. Instead she used homemade jams and jellies and preserves, and walnuts and hickory nuts gathered from the woods.”
‘Poor man’s fruitcake,’ by the way, is not fruitcake at all, but rather stack cake, the delicious dried apple cake found throughout the region.
Eugene O’Neill, in his 1914 play, ”The Movie Man,” coined a memorable simile: ”We sure are as nutty as a fruitcake or we wouldn’t be here.” Can the dense brown confection ever shed the stereotype that comes along with being, well, a fruitcake?
And, finally, in the spirit of the season, a recipe for fruitcake from the Capital Scot site; be sure to read carefully!
You’ll need the following:
1 C water
1 C sugar
4 large eggs
2 C dried fruit
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 C brown sugar
1 FULL bottle of your favorite whisky (single malts are best)
Sample the whisky to check for quality. Take a large bowl. Check the whisky again to be sure that it is of the highest quality. Pour 1 level cup and drink. Repeat. Turn on the electric mixer; beat 1 C of butter in a large fluffy bowl.
Add 1 tsp sugar and beat again. Make sure the whisky is still OK. Cry another tup. Turn off the mixer. Break two legs and add to the bowl and chuck in the cup of dried fruit.
Mix on the turner. If the fried druit gets stuck in the beaterers, pry it loose with a drewscriver. Sample the whisky to check for tonsisticity. Next, sift 2 cups of salt. Or something. Who cares. Check the whisky. Now sift the lemon juice and strain your nuts. Add one table. Spoon. Of sugar or something. Whatever you can find.
Grease the oven. Turn the cake tin to 350 degrees. Don’t forget to beat off the turner. Throw the bowl out of the window. Check the whisky again. Go to bed.
Who likes fruitcake anyway?
sources: Appalachian Home Cooking, by Mark F. Sohn, University Press of Kentucky, 2005
More Than Moonshine, by Sidney Saylor Farr, Univ of Pittsburgh Press, 1983