November 30, 2006

Nothing says 'festive' like... Fruitcake!

In my copious free time in the last few weeks I've been sifting through my parents' old recipes -- some of which I didn't even know existed -- but more on that in a future post. For now, just know I've found some real gems.

Among the collection is one of my favorite holiday memories of my late father. A sense memory of sorts.

A recipe originally published in the mid-seventies in the local newspaper that quickly found its way to the top of my father's gift-giving list, where it remained until his last Christmas some 20 years later.

A recipe almost perfect for Anna's call for contributions to her Festive Food Fair. What's more festive than a 6 pound Persimmon Fruit Cake?

I have several pounds of ripe persimmons on the counter begging to be put to good use. Most of the other ingredients reside somewhere in my kitchen. And then there's that persistent sense memory...

From the moment that persimmons hit the market each fall well into the Christmas season, barely a weekend went by without the sweet-spicy smell of persimmon cake wafting from the oven as it baked. We sent the finished cakes to family and friends in the Midwest and Arizona who were intrigued by the exotic flavor of this "strange California" fruit (long before a global economy put persimmons in the produce aisle of every mega-mart in the country). People who professed to hate fruitcake begged for a second (or third) shipment. Some offered to pay for additional cakes -- in today's environment, my childhood kitchen could have been the set of a Food Network Special showcasing a homegrown recipe gone commercial. And to this day, the smell of ripe persimmons beckons vivid memories of Christmas' past -- and my father's myriad contributions to them.

Yet when I ponder contributing Mo's infamous persimmon cake to the festive food fair, I hesitate...


Certainly not to protect an heirloom family recipe. Sharing these recipes and their stories with others -- even those I may never meet -- is a big part of what keeps them alive for me.

No dear reader, I hesitate because I HATE fruitcake. Or more accurately the brightly colored candied fruit that MAKES fruitcake. So while I crave the scent of the persimmon cake and the mental images it brings, having never tasted it, I can't really completely recommend it. And the thought of baking 6 pounds of it -- and then having to dispense of it -- leaves me hesitant.

So I reread the recipe. Again. With a creative eye. How can I make this work for me? The offending ingredient stares back at me in my mother's handwriting: 1 C candied mixed fruit. Can I leave it out? Or what can I substitute?

Convinced that a cake that smells this good can't taste bad I forge ahead, opting to include a blend of dried cranberries, cherries, and apples in place of the candied fruit. I include the recipe below as published for those of you who aren't offended by candied fruit and want to try it as is. Or tweak it in some other way to make it uniquely yours.

The oven is heating now. It's exactly the crisp-cold California afternoon for baking memory-inducing recipes of old, and I'm looking forward to being enveloped by the scent if not the ghost of Christmas' past.

Mo's Persimmon Fruit Cake (as published in the Oakland Tribune, circa 1970-something)
Yield: 1 Cake, about 6 pounds

3 cups persimmon pulp
1/2 cup California Muscatel
2 cups sugar
1 cup seedless dark raisins
1 cup muscat raisins
3 cups walnuts (Mo used a combination of pine nuts and pecans here -- so I did too)
1 cup candied mixed fruit
1 cup milk
3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2/4 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons baking soda

In a large bowl, combine persimmon pulp, wine, sugar, raisins, nuts, mixed fruit and milk. Re-sift flour with spices, salt and soda. Add to persimmon mixture and mix well. Pour into well-greased 3 quart heavy-aluminum pan with glass cover, set in pan of hot water. Bake, covered, in moderate oven (350) for 1 3/4 to 2 hours, or until sides shrink away from pan. Remove cover for last 1/2 hour. Set pan on wire rack until cool. Invert pan on heavy foil wrap. Wrap and store in cool dry place or freeze. If desired, the cake can be baked in a 10-inch tube pan covered with aluminum foil.

Check this blog entry again in another couple of hours for a photo of the finished product, and the comments section for my thoughts on how it tastes.


UPDATE: Apologies to those of you patiently waiting to see how this turned out. And special thanks to Sarah, John and Brian who provide subtle and not-so-subtle reminders to come back with an update.

The verdict?

I'm a fruitcake convert!

At 6 pounds it's not a light cake, but it's got a sensational crumb and maintains moisture beautifully. Part spice cake, part fruit cake, part rum cake -- each of the flavor elements makes its presence known without overwhelming any of the others.

One warning: small slices. A little goes a long way!

Now go check out the other delectable contributions to Anna's Food Fair.

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anna maria said...

That's a very intriguing recipe. I've never heard of a fruitcake with persimmons, a fruit I love. Two are ripening on my windowsill right now.

wheresmymind said...

man...I'm still afraid of fruitcake!

Anonymous said...

This sounds like a fruitcake I would eat.

Dolores said...

Quick update now - longer one with pictures soon.

I'm a convert -- the persimmon cake is fabulous!