Search This Blog

Friday, December 18, 2015

Nutty About Fruitcake

Personally, I like fruitcake. Unfortunately, it also likes me and chooses to stay with me—on my hips, on my thighs, on my waistline—which is why I don’t make it every year.

Fruitcake means something more to me than the traditional bad joke about the unwanted Christmas gift. My mother’s side of the family has a tradition of serving a groom’s cake at a wedding. And, a groom’s cake is—you guessed it—a fruitcake.

For years I did not know the origin of the groom’s cake. Since my mother’s line is 100% English—not Irish (except for a 4th or 5th great-grandmother reportedly born in Dublin), not Scottish, not Welsh—I supposed the tradition came from there. (More on that in another blog post.) All I knew was, once I announced I was getting married the first time, my grandmother, who was still living at the time, assured me that although it was the wrong time of year (September wedding) to easily find all the right ingredients, she would have my groom’s cake made at least a month ahead of time and shipped out so Mom could get it frosted to match the bride’s cake.

When I married the second time, we set our date six days before Christmas. Since we married two months after our first date, that didn’t leave me much time from the day we made the decision to get my groom's cake made. Both my mother and her mother were gone by then, so if I was going to make the traditional groom’s cake out of my grandmother’s recipe, I had to get busy.

The problem was, I did not have my grandmother’s fruitcake recipe. When I had asked her for it while she still lived, Grandmother refused to give it to me. Her reasoning was this: although we came from pioneer stock that had sailed the Atlantic, crossed the plains and settled in Utah for the sake of their religion, she had not stayed all that active in her church. But, she knew that as a teenager I had embraced the religion of my ancestors, which meant I was involved with their spirit of giving and sharing. Her fruitcake recipe was her specialty and a closely-guarded family secret. If she gave it to me, she just knew I would share it with all the Relief Society sisters at church and then everyone would have her good fruitcake recipe. She was having none of that. (And people wonder from whom I inherited my orneriness…)

With only a little over a month until I planned to marry and no traditional fruitcake recipe for a groom’s cake, what to do? I dug out my mother’s old recipe box I had inherited in hopes that grandmother might have sworn her to secrecy and trusted it to her. Eureka! I found a fruitcake recipe. Reading it over, it didn’t look like grandmother’s, but there was only one way to find out. I baked it up.

The recipe called for soaking the candied cherries in brandy overnight. I knew my grandmother wrapped her fruitcake in a cheesecloth soaked in some kind of spirits—she assured me when I was a child that the alcohol evaporated out before we would eat itbut she used it to help preserve the cake during the month that it needed to "rest" in order for the flavors to blend. So, even though I am a good Latter-day Saint that does not believe in drinking alcohol, I took a deep breath and purchased the brandy. I wanted my groom’s cake to be made from my grandmother’s traditional recipe.

I not only baked enough for a small ring-shaped groom’s cake, but I baked an extra pan on the side to sample. I wanted to make sure I had gotten it right. I wrapped the cakes tightly and let the sample rest a few days before I tried a slice. As soon as I took a healthy bite, including one of the cherries, I realized two things: (1) This was not my grandmother’s recipe, and (2) If I served this at my wedding reception, I risked my guests, including my six children, getting tipsy off the fruitcake.

I was back to square one. My last hope was my aunt. Perhaps grandmother had given her the recipe. If nothing else, my aunt still lived in Utah and it was her family who cleaned out my grandmother’s home when she died. 

My aunt not only had the recipe, but she gladly sent it to me.

I share this next tidbit at the risk of getting my ear chewed off by my oldest daughter. She was a teen as she observed all this fuss over something called a groom’s cake. She had never heard of such a thing until I insisted it was a family tradition and I planned to have one at my wedding. That is when she asked me where the tradition came from and what it was all about.

Her question flummoxed me. I had no idea why we had a groom’s cake, only that my grandmother

By Katya Creates, photo courtesy D. Ramey Logan

insisted it was traditional for our family. So, using my “massive” powers of reasoning and deduction, I came up with an explanation off the top of my head. I told her I believed the traditional bride’s cake was supposed to be white to represent purity. The groom’s cake was a fruitcake full of nuts and fruits probably to represent God’s admonition to Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth. I had no idea if that was symbolism behind the fruitcake, but it sounded good to me.

My daughter thought about it for several seconds, twisting her forehead by raising first one eyebrow, and then the other. Finally she said, “Okay. I get the part about fruits. But what’s the deal with the nuts? Is it because that is how men get after they’ve been married awhile?”

How did a fifteen year-old girl come to understand so much about marriage?

My grandmother’s recipe made a HUGE amount of dough. I not only had more than enough groom’s cake for my wedding to my current husband, but my children who are not big fruitcake fans quickly grew tired of me offering to bring a plate of sliced fruitcake to family get-togethers for the next several years. Since I don’t particularly care for rum or brandy flavoring and I have a freezer to keep my fruitcake from growing green stuff, I don’t wrap it in cheesecloth soaked in alcohol. And, as each of my children announced their plans to marry, I discovered the best way to get a grimace out of them was to announce that I would start gathering the ingredients for their groom’s cake.

In honor of my maternal grandmother who would turn over in her grave if I were to share her special fruitcake recipe with you, I will continue to keep it a closely guarded family secret (one that will no doubt fade into the oblivion of time considering how well my children like fruitcake). However, I will share the recipe I found in my mother’s recipe box. If I ever make it again, it will be without the brandy.

1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
4 eggs
1 wine glass full of brandy (optional, substitute water)
1 pound whole dates (or half dates, half raisins)
2 cups pecan pieces (or half pecans, half black walnuts)
1 cup Brazil nuts cut in half
1 box (16oz.) candied cherries, whole
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 scant teaspoon salt

Soak cherries overnight. Combine flour, baking powder and salt, mix through fruit. Beat yolks, add sugar and vanilla, beat again. Add to fruit. Add nuts. Combine. Fold into well-beaten egg whites.
Line three small loaf pans with wax paper. Bake in 300° oven for one hour, longer if needed.


 Zina Abbott is the pen name used by Robyn Echols for her historical novels. Her novel, Family Secrets, was published by Fire Star Press. Her novelette, A Christmas Promise, along with the first two novellas in the Eastern Sierra Brides 1884 series, Big Meadows Valentine and A Resurrected Heart, was published by Prairie Rose Publications.

The author is a member of Women Writing the West, American Night Writers Association, and Modesto Writers Meet Up. She currently lives with her husband in California near the “Gateway to Yosemite.” She enjoys any kind of history including family history. When she is not piecing together novel plots, she pieces together quilt blocks.

Please visit and follow the Zina Abbott’s Amazon Author Page by clicking HERE.


  1. Such an interesting tradition! It's nice that your family has kept it going.

  2. Well Robyn/Zina, I'm a Scot-Irish person, so without that brandy, I don't think that fruitcake would have the proper boost it needs. LOL
    My traditions are a bit different. In our tradition the top layer of the wedding cake is a fruitcake (soaked in that precious brandy) and it is set aside and saved for the celebration of the couple's first anniversary.
    My mother was always in a hurry or the reverse, procrastinating. (So very much like me!)With just days to go before Christmas, she would sometimes decide it was the right time to make a fruitcake. Now "fruit" in my mother's vocabulary included things that weren't actually fruit. So the fruitcake would be loaded with nuts, raisins (which I don't like baked in anything), and gum drops. Yep, Mom considered them close enough to fruit to throw in that cake. Since I love gum drops, I liked her diversion from real candied fruit. Only once do I remember Mom making the fruitcake enough in advance to throw that cheesecloth on it and soak it in apricot brandy. I can tell you straight up my dad loved it.
    Happy Holidays!