At the Beginning of the road
By D.C. Sorensen
The weather seems to be already in the Christmas Spirit. The Ely Chamber of Commerce’s Paul Pengal has done a great job decorating Sheridan’s street lights. The merchants around town are brimming with merchandise that long for a place under your tree. The credit card companies have extended everyone’s credit line. Who could not be in good cheer?
Everyone looks forward to some aspect of the holidays. For the kidlets, it is all the presents, cookies and sweets. For many adults, it is seeing children enjoying the presents, cookies and sweets. I think all of that is fine, but I look forward to fruitcake season.
I know many people think that fruitcake is a national joke. Some people have been trading the same fruitcake back and forth for decades. Others use fruitcake as a doorstop. In Winton there is a house that was built of old fruitcakes. All this joking and slander against one of mankind’s greatest achievements disturbs me. I think fruitcake is one of the most complex and creative baked goods devised in a kitchen. It certainly beats lefse by a mile in my book.
I think we should give fruitcake a break. Fruitcake should be admired for its many attributes. Fruitcake has the ability to last almost forever. This attribute should be applauded and not scorned. This ability comes from the fact that it has been liberally laced with brandy or something even harder, such as whiskey. These adult beverages, when allowed to permeate a fruitcake, give it a flavor that is to be savored.
Another virtue is that the candied fruit adds color and beauty. As a child I can remember my Father always cherished the fruitcake he was given by his mother. It would come in a small tin, wrapped in wax paper and foil. He would cut each piece razor thin. The candied cherries, pineapple, and citron would glow like a stained glass window in a church. My brother, sister and I would all clamor for a second piece. Not a chance. My Father made that fruitcake last for months.
For years no one know how my grandmother made the fruitcake. Finally, my Aunt Evie asked to watch and record the process. My Grandmother Sorensen was a Danish immigrant who did not learn cooking in a Home Ec. Class. Her cooking utensils were old ceramic cups and wooden spoons that dated back to the depression. Grandma would draw off flour with an old coffee cup and Aunt Evie would re-measure it to figure out how many cups it was. The process went on for every ingredient. We have no idea how far back the recipe goes. It was just in Grandma’s head. She probably baked fruitcake by memory for over sixty years. During Prohibition she managed to procure whiskey to marinade the cakes. Great fruitcakes must be kept in a cool location for about three weeks. Once a week, each cake would receive a shot of booze. It is this process, along with TLC, that transforms flour, eggs, sugar and fruit into ambrosia.
Perhaps it is because most people have only sampled store-bought fruitcake that universal scorn exists. Store-bought fruitcake tastes gritty, flat, and syrupy. There is no soul in store-bought. The difference is the same between store-bought blueberry pie and blueberry pie made with real wild blueberries. Store-bought blueberry pie is a sham and this is the same for store-bought fruitcake.
One of the virtues of Ely is that so many businesses offer unique products that are authentic. No substitutes or shortcuts. If may cost more to do it that way, but it is worth it. Once I had tasted real maple syrup I could never go back to Old Log Cabin. It was neither old, from a log cabin nor real syrup.
I look forward to a day when America will discover what we in Ely already know. Blueberry pie should not contain blue dye #5 and corn starch. Someday, our America will taste and appreciate real fruitcake. It will be the fruitcake their ancestors enjoyed. My mother has taken up the tradition of making fruitcake. Each year I look forward to my allotment. I ration it out to the last. In fact, I am down to just a few more pieces to enjoy before the next shipment comes. I will get a Christmas stocking on Christmas morning and inside it is my precious fruitcake. Scoff if you must, but it is I who have the last smile. It is the smile of enjoyment.
Johanna Sorensen’s Fruitcake
1 lb. Butter
2 cups White Sugar
6 Eggs, beaten
¾ tps. of Salt
1 lb. White Raisins
¼ pound of Candied Cherries
¾ pound of Candied Pineapple
¼ pound of Citron
¼ pound of Orange Peel
½ pound of Currents
1 cup Orange Juice
3 cups of Flour
1 cup Walnuts, chopped
1 shot of Rum or other
Bake in a slow oven – 300 degrees – 2 ½ to 3 hours. Test intermittently after 1 ½ hours to see if done since the dried fruits have varying amounts of liquid. After cooling, wrap in wax paper and then foil. Store in a cool location and add one shot of rum, brandy, whiskey or bourbon each week for at least 3 weeks.
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Published November 18, 1996