I knew I was onto a good thing when my son Nick came into the kitchen and said “Mama, are you making trail mix?” He was looking at the giant bowl filled to the top with chopped dates, dried pineapple, cherries, brazil nuts, pecans and macadamias.
“No honey, just fruitcake,” I replied. Now in the 21st century, fruitcake can be taken any number of ways, mostly negative. Comments today about fruitcake include “That fruitcake you are carrying, is that a food gift, or a murder weapon?” But my memories are different: I remember childhood afternoons, sitting on a couch in the rare winter sun of Oregon, slowly dismantling a thin slice of my Mom’s fruitcake, nibbling on a date here, a nut there, a piece of citron, a candied cherry. Far from healthy with its abundance of preservatives, sugar, chemical colorings, chemical flavorings.
But I do remember the happiness, the yumminess, the fun. How do I bring back that happiness and provide good food to eat when I munch on a fruitcake? A fruitcake that makes my body want to thank me?
It’s easy, actually. Just put in real food, good food, and as long as I am at it, make it food that I especially like. Use real nuts and dried fruits instead of chemical alterations. So I did, and it turned out really, really good.
So, the first problem solved; I got really, really good fruitcake. Second problem: nobody wanted to eat it! As my beloved and brutally honest son-in-law Mike said, “Call it something else, anything else, but not fruitcake. We will probably like it better.” Which got me to thinking: fruitcake is, after all, just a large trail bar. So this year I made it again, this time cutting it into small bars and packaging them up like trail bars. I put a perfectly-sized label on each one so that people felt like they got a special little package.
It worked! People love ‘em! Most people that is. There are still some holdouts who just won’t have anything to do with sugar. It can’t be helped; not everyone can share my happiness……..
Start with six pounds of dried fruits and nuts, your choice.
For Jeanne’s Choice, I used
• 3/4 lbs walnuts
• 3/4 lbs pecans
• 3/4 lbs macadamias
• 1/2 lbs brazil nuts
• 1/2 lbs dried apricots
• 3/4 lbs dried pineapple
• 3/4 lbs dates
• 1/2 lbs dried cherries
• 3/4 lbs candied orange peel
For David’s Choice, I used 1 – 1/2 pounds each of:
• dried coconut shavings, unsweetened
• macadamia nuts
• dried pineapple
• dried cherries
To make candied orange peel:
6 organic Valencia oranges. Peel the oranges, then cut up the peel into slices or dice. Save the fruit for another purpose. Put the cut-up peels into a pot, cover with water, bring to a boil and drain. Cover again with water and bring to a boil, drain. Repeat for a third time. This boiling and draining mellows the taste of the peel. Cook in a syrup of 2 cups sugar and 3/4 cup water for 45 minutes. Dry on a rack at 120 for 16 hours until al dente. Makes about 3/4 pound.
Fruit & nut bars
Originally a fruitcake recipe from Martha Stewart, who learned how to make it from her childhood neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Maus. With adaptations.
• 6 pounds nuts and dried fruits
• 1 pound butter
• 2 – 1/2 cups flour
• 2 Tbsp allspice
• 2 – 1/4 cups sugar
• 12 eggs
• 1/4 cup molasses
Chop the nuts and fruits coarsely. Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Use a 9 x 13 pan and an 8 x 8 pan. Butter the pans lightly and line with parchment or waxed paper, then butter the paper. Stir together the flour and allspice. In a mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy, then add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Add the molasses and when mixed thoroughly, stir in the fruits and nuts with a wooden spoon. Stir in the flour mixture.
Pour the batter into the prepared pans, making sure that both are filled to the same height. The batter will be lumpy; press the top gently with the wooden spoon to help the batter settle into place. Put each pan into a larger pan that has about an inch of water in it. Bake for 3 to 3 – 1/2 hours or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. The small cake may cook faster than the large cake.
When done, remove the cakes from the oven and allow to cool on a rack. When they are cool enough to handle but still warm, remove from the pans. Carefully rmove the paper. Allow to cool thoroughly. Plan carefully the dimensions of your portions so they will all wrap up uniformly (there is a certain charm in the presentation of pieces all the same size), and so the label shape you choose will fit perfectly. On a cutting board, cut into portions with a sharp knife. Wrap in foil. Apply labels.
Will keep for months refrigerated
Excellent for hikes or car trips, for snacks at coffee time, and for a light and easy dessert.
- Small Rectangular Labels • I chose the “French Market” style in Gold, Spice and Chocolate.