Topic: Profiles

Fruitcake Weather | Mary’s Farm

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FruitcakeIt seems that the word fruitcake can no longer be spoken in polite society. You wouldn’t dare serve it. Referred to as a “doorstop” or a “boat anchor,” fruitcake has become the object of jokes on late-night television, where chainsaws and welding torches are suggested as successful cutting tools.

One jokester somewhere out West apparently hosts an annual fruitcake toss, with the current record being 420 feet. Another man claims to have found in his attic an old fruitcake that he estimated to be pre-World War II. I believe he said he ate it. A woman put an ad in her local paper after the holidays, soliciting unwanted fruitcakes, which she then added to her compost, expecting a rich result.

When fruitcake was added to the list of items that might provoke questions from baggage inspectors at the airport (it’s so dense that the scanner equipment can’t tell it apart from plastic explosives), it only added fuel to the fruitcake fire. How has this once-exalted holiday staple become such a target?

When I was growing up in the 1950s, we often received fruitcakes in the mail between Thanksgiving and Christmas. This powerful confection came to us from bakeries in Georgia or Texas, where pecans are plentiful and fruitcakes are still big business. From inside the rugged mailing carton, the dark cake would emerge, crimped red paper gripping the circle of candied cherries, citrons, pecans, and apricots. On nights leading up to Christmas, my mother would slice the cake thickly and serve it to us on holiday plates, an exciting prelude to what lay ahead.

During the holidays, for many years, I’ve read Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory aloud, with my cousin George or with whomever I can coax into listening. The set-off line to this wonderful, evocative memoir is: “Oh my, it’s fruitcake weather,” spoken by a woman in her sixties to her seven-year-old cousin and best friend. Thus begins the story of their annual ritual of gathering the ingredients for 30 fruitcakes to present to friends — such as Eleanor Roosevelt. Included in all this is a perilous journey to obtain a bottle of whiskey for the cake from the local boot­legger, Mr. Haha Jones.

Early last December, I gathered with new friends who love Capote’s story as much as I do. They’d just put up their tree and begun to trim it. They, it turns out, always read A Christmas Memory aloud at this time of year, a fact that automatically endeared them to me. Along with their two young sons, we all settled in front of a big hearth fire, each of us taking a turn reading. The fire popped and spat sparks, and, if we looked outside, it might have been Alabama in the 1930s. We were stuck in a time none of us had ever known or remembered.

Just before Christmas, my new friend baked me a fruitcake, the first one I can remember receiving in my adult life. It was plump and heavy — yes, capable of being a doorstop (though I’d stop short of the boat anchor concept). Later, I opened the tightly wrapped loaf. The wheat-colored cake was dense with citrons and candied cherries, walnuts and dried cranberries, and lots of raisins. The fragrance was somehow just as much of Christmas as a balsam tree and a roasting turkey. “It’s fruitcake weather,” I thought to myself, and dropped back to a time when bootleg whiskey was a secret ingredient and cousins were the best kind of family.

Recipe for a fruitcake you’ll love, honest! Go straight to the recipe below or see the step-by-step instructions for this easy fruitcake recipe.


  • I made this recipe last year at Christmas. It was a HUGE hit – especially with my dad! He has already requested it again for Christmas this year. I had a heck of a time finding a 6 inch round cake pan and ended up using a ceramic souffle dish instead. I kept an eye on it while baking and it turned out fine! Next time I will soak the fruit a little more in the brandy – they were not as moist as I would have liked them to be.

  • It sounds like the author is describing Claxton Fruitcakes, one of my seasonal favorites!

  • I agree wholeheartedly Rhonda and Sue. I’m a new subscriber to Yankee magazine and love every inch of it.

    Rhonda..your “bring on the Nor’easter…comment…I concur!!!…bring it on and I too will be attempting my first ever fruitcake!

    Blessings for a wonderful holiday!

  • My exact thoughts, Sue !!! Doesnt each of us wish we were a “kid again” ?! If even for a day so that we can embrace the holiday again. I remember my parents saying things like “the good old days” and “remember when….” Each of us have BECOME our parents, whether we want to admit it or not. SInce I’ve lost both of my parents within the last 3 years, the holidays are especially rough. But we each need to draw on our fondest memories, cherish the old and embrace the new. So…bring on that first Nor’easter, let me slip and slide down lifes highway and please dont let me burn what will be my First attempt at Fruitcake this year ! Happy Holidays to all you Yankee readers this year and “God Bless us, Everyone !!!!!!!! “

  • This recipe sounds great and I am looking forward to giving it a try. I LOVE the tin that the cake is displayed in on the cover of the magazine. Where could I find a similar pan? Thanks for your great articles – Mary’s Farm is one of my favorite things about Yankee magazine. It’s almost always the first thing I read. :-)

  • Wow – does this bring back southern memories! My mother made a delicious fruitcake each Christmas season. She loaded it with Brazil nuts, almonds, pecans, and English walnuts. Because we had pecan trees on our property, pecans.were plentifully added. She didn’t like some of the candied fruit, so she only put in candied pineapples and cherries which she diced into small pieces, golden yellow and dark raisins, and dates. She baked it in a large tube pan with brown paper on the bottom. The fun part was our weighing it when it was finished. Because of the density of the cake and the many pounds of nuts it was always sooooooo heavy! The top was truly beautiful, whole pieces of candied pineapple circling the top, red and green canded cherries in the center of these, all surrounded by walnut and pecan halves with whole Brazil nuts here and there. She halved apples and lay them across the top and around the sides, then wrapped the entire masterpiece in a cloth soaked in bourbon followed by an outer layer of foil. Oh, my! When we finally sliced it a week or so later it was moist and delicious!

    I am so sorry she is no longer healthy enough to make this cake, and her memory is so compromised that she can’t recall specific measurements. I have not searched her files thoroughly enough to find her recipe, but I must do so! My husband who has never had a “real” fruitcake – only those made by Claxton or other such southern fruitcake bakeries – absolutely LOVES fruitcake. If he had ever eaten Mother’s cake he would think he were in heaven. In fact, he loves it so much he begins his yearly search to find them at Thanksgiving. This year I am ordering him one from Dillard, Georgia and keeping my fingers crossed that it will be better than the others he has found both here in the Pacific NW and in Georgia! Wish me luck!

  • No door stops or boat anchors for me. Contrary to most of my family members, I love a good fruitcake! I’ve printed the recipe and will try it. Wish me luck, and Edie, who knows-you might just receive your second fruitcake as an adult. Doris


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