FRUITCAKE


Back around this time of year in 2011 (Wasn't that, like, yesterday?), Mr. Beers and I were planning our annual pilgrimage to New York City. We've been going to the city for Christmas for quite a while, so this wasn't anything new. What was new was that the state of New York, earlier in the year, had decided that it was okay for people to marry whomever they loved. Mr. Beers and I started talking about the possibility of getting married on this particular trip. We shared our feelings about this with a few people. Those feelings were mostly feelings of uncertainty since getting married had never seemed like anything that would really be feasible for us. We thought about it and talked about it and researched it and found out enough to think that we might actually be able to do it. Still there were rather loud voices in our heads telling us that it might not happen - that somebody would say, "Wait a minute. You can't do that." You see, since it had never been possible in the past, it was hard to imagine that finally we could just go get married. Like I said, we shared these thoughts and feelings with a few people - a couple of whom were Bob and Melanie Maxham, dear friends and regular customers at W. D. Deli (and, not incidentally, the parents of Will, our beautiful godson).

A few days before we were to leave for New York, Bob and Melanie came to lunch. Melanie had a small package of something wrapped in aluminum foil. She explained that it was a fruit cake that she had made, and that she wanted to give to us for - not just for Christmas, but also as a wedding cake. There was a time when fruit cake was a traditional wedding cake, and this one was made from a recipe that was Melanie's grandmother's. It was a such a sweet gesture, and that fruitcake traveled with us to Manhattan, and was unwrapped and enjoyed at a champagne brunch at Les Halles in the financial district immediately following our wedding at the city clerk's office on December 28, 2011. Since we weren't sure that the wedding would happen, as I said, we had only told a few people about it. But even those few people got excited enough about the prospect of this celebration that we ended up being surrounded by the sweetest group of eleven friends and family members from New York, Texas, and Maryland. The whole day was - there are no words, really - very special. 

The fruitcake was delicious. Once we were home, I asked Melanie to share the recipe and she graciously did. I don't think she'd mind my sharing it with you. When she gave it to me it was written beautifully - not only a recipe, but a story as well, with anecdotal notes letting you know that she used to help make this cake when she was a child, crushing vanilla wafers and graham crackers with a rolling pin. I'll give you a slightly abbreviated, less lovely version. You know what, never mind, I'm gonna leave it the way Melanie wrote it. Another nostalgic note on this recipe is that some of the amounts on some of the ingredients say things like "a can or half a bag of coconut" and a "box of graham crackers," harkening back to a time when things like coconut and graham crackers came in a standard size. Here we go:

Sybil Howard Sims' Ice-Box Fruitcake

Ingredients:
1 box vanilla wafers
1 box graham crackers
1 quart (4 cups) chopped pecans
1 box golden raisins
1/2 bag or one can sweetend cococut
16 oz. can evaporated milk
1 bag marshmallows
16 oz. maraschino cherries, drained but retain liquid
1 - 2 cups dried cherries, depends on how much you like dried cherries

This was Melanie Sims Maxham's grandmother's recipe. and she made this cake at Christmas.  Even people who say, "Oh, I don't like fruitcake" will eat this one up.  It keeps a long time in the refrigerator, and travels well if you want to send it in the mail.

You can make this by yourself, but Melanie doesn't recommend it, as it is much easier with help.  Before you begin making the cake, get your pan(s) ready.



 It will all fit into one bundt pan, and that makes a nice presentation, but it is hard to get out of the pan.  Typically, she will use a small cake pan, and four mini-cheesecake pans with removable sides.  That way, we have cake at home, and little cakes to give away.  You will need to line the pans with waxed paper or cling film.  Melanie uses waxed paper on the bottom of pans with removable sides, and cling film on anything else.  If you use cling film, use enough so it extends over the sides of the pan, you will pull on this to remove the cake from the pan.  Don't worry if it wrinkles, it doesn't matter. I used small loaf pans and it filled three.

Crush the vanilla wafers and graham crackers very fine.  A food processor works well, as does placing the wafers and crackers in a paper bag and letting a child crush them with a rolling pin.  The paper bag / rolling pin combo was my job when I was a child.

In a VERY large bowl, mix the pecans. raisins, coconut and cherries.


Gradually add the crushed vanilla wafers and graham crackers, stirring thoroughly.



Put the marshmallows and evaporated milk in a large heavy-bottomed pan over low heat.  This scorches easily, so stirr constantly until the marshmallows have completely melted.  Remove mixture from heat and let stand until it cools slightly.



Pour the marshmallow mixture a little at a time into the bowl over the other ingredients.  This is where it's really good to have help.  One person pours the marshmallow mixture, and the other mixes.  You will have to mix this together with your hands.  Latex or food service gloves are a really good idea for this part.  At this point, you need to work fast, because as the marshmallow cream and the mixture come together it will get stiff quickly.  If it is too dry, add some of the liquid you reserved from the maraschino cherries.  It will be very sticky.

Once the ingredients are thoroughly combined, start placing into the pans, pressing the mixture down firmly.  Your gloves will be very sticky by this time, so placing a piece of waxed paper over the top of the pan to press on is helpful.

Put the pans into the refrigerator to chill.  I usually leave them in there for a couple of days before I try to unmold the cakes.  Keep uneaten cake in the refrigerator.



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