Grandma's Spirit Fruitcakes
The fruitcake has somehow gotten a bad reputation, and it’s time once and for all to put an end to it — the bad reputation, not the fruitcake.
The multi-colored mixed fruit and nut concoction is indeed a holiday treat for some, a gag gift to others, and — to the very young — a food item to be avoided at all cost.
Some even say there have been only a few thousand fruitcakes ever produced; they just keep getting passed around from one family to the next.
It’s an acquired taste to be sure, one that only comes with age, probably age 60. But I say there’s truly nothing on this planet that shouts Christmas like a big bite of fruitcake.
What other food staple of the holidays can you bite into that has every color of fall, winter, and spring? Go ahead and laugh. I’m not afraid to admit it. I love the multi-colored holiday tradition. And no, I’m not 60, and it seems I’m not alone. It’s rumored there’s an entire town up in north Georgia that’s nuts about the stuff.
My love affair with fruitcakes started at age 8 when we lived at 110 Flamingo Street. Now, I’m not talking about the ones bought in grocery stores. Back then, store-bought fruitcakes were only good for using as door stops and hurling at Down the Street Bully Brad (another holiday tradition when we lived on Flamingo). We even used them to prop up a leg of the couch that “accidentally” broke off while no one was jumping on it.
No, growing up, I really didn’t care much for store-bought fruitcakes.
The ones I loved were Grandma’s Spirit Fruitcakes.
Grandma made all her cakes from scratch. She started right after Thanksgiving with a secret recipe she said was started around the 1920s and handed down through the years. For days she’d stir buckets of candied fruit, nuts and other stuff together before finally folding the mixture into cake molds of all different shapes and sizes.
Even now, I still don’t know everything that went into one. For example the red fruit are, of course, cherries, but what are the green and yellow chewy thingies? Green things could possibly be candied grapes, but what fruit is yellow? And don’t say bananas or pineapples. There’s no such thing as candied bananas and pineapples aren’t fruit – they’re pineapples.
Aside from making all of them from scratch, there was one other thing about Grandma’s fruitcake that made them unique, so unique Dad said they never could be sold in stores. It was because of the white lightning.
Grandma never told anyone where she got the Mason jar full of the clear liquid. And us kids never knew what it was. She never let any of us take a sip.
I did see her accidentally spill some on floor once. Whatever was in that jar took the varnish right off the wood.
After the cakes came out of the oven and cooled, Grandma soaked towels in the liquid and then wrapped them around the cakes. She told me when the towels dried out, she’d wet them again and re-wrap. This continued for an entire month until she said the cakes were cured. Of what, I don’t know. But they were cured – and really good.
Grandma has long been missing from our holiday celebrations, her secret recipe for Spirit Fruitcakes gone forever, and there are no longer any outlets for Mason jars of clear liquid.
Lucky for me the store-bought fruitcakes have come a long way in the “tastes good” category in the last 45 years – almost as good as Grandma’s.
But to this day, I still don’t know what those yellow chewy thingies are. Or what really was in Grandma’s Mason jar.
[Rick Ryckeley, who lives in Senoia, has been a firefighter for more than two decades and a columnist for The Citizen since 2001. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.]