2019: N… A to Z Italian Famiglia Foods and Memories: Nancy’s Xmas Fruitcake

2019: N… A to Z  Italian Famiglia Foods and Memories: Nancy’s Xmas Fruitcake

I’m back for “year 4” of the A to Z… April Challenge!

My first year of this challenge had me racking my brain for a writing topic… especially as I didn’t quite understand the process. But finally I came up with 2016: Southern Foods and Memories. They said write what you know… and being a girl born in the South… well this was what I knew.  2017: Conversations with Mama was a somewhat easy one for me as I’d journaled our conversations for years so I researched some of my favorite topics to write on.  2018: All About Nancy Drew has been my favorite topic so far, and I don’t know if I’ll ever come up with another to equal it. It literally had me researching every day for over six months… researching, reading and perfecting every post. I was totally consumed with Nancy Drew for months… and still am! I didn’t want to “not” participate this year, but I was drawing a blank. Finally, mid February, I came up with writing on my husband’s Italian family foods and memories. I did my Southern foods the first year, so it was time to finally give his family their due! I’m also participating in the yearly 52 Ancestors 52 Stories this year… I am really feeling over-extended this month. April is a tough month for me, as we usually are traveling to my mother’s and my son in Florida… but somehow I’ll manage!

I think I can safely say that before marrying into an Italian family, I had never eaten any of the foods I’m blogging on this month… such an underprivileged child I was! Growing up in the South where we ate fried chicken, okra, black-eyed peas, butter beans, mashed potatoes, creamed style corn and southern biscuits! Oh My…!

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Nancy’s Xmas Fruitcake

Fruitcake (as we know it today) began in the Middle ages, and just like today, they were expensive… so they generally saved them for the holidays. It was in the 13th century when dried fruits began arriving in Britain… coming from Portugal and the east mediterranean. These type of cakes differ from many other cakes because they often are prepared long before they are to be enjoyed.

People say… Fruitcake last forever…  a classic phrase coined in 1983 by Russell Baker which went along with this story.

Fruitcake is Forever

Thirty-four years ago, I inherited the family fruitcake. Fruitcake is the only food durable enough to become a family heirloom. It had been in my grandmother’s possession since 1880, and she passed it to a niece in 1933. Surprisingly, the niece, who had always seemed to detest me, left it to me in her will….I would have renounced my inheritance except for the sentiment of the thing, for the family fruitcake was the symbol of our family’s roots. When my grandmother inherited it, it was already 86 years old, having been baked by her great-grandfather in 1794 as a Christmas gift for President George Washington. Washington, with his high-flown view of ethical standards for Government workers, sent it back with thanks, explaining that he thought it unseemly for Presidents to accept gifts weighing more than 80 pounds, even though they were only eight inches in diameter…There is no doubt…about the great age of the fruitcake. Sawing into it six Christmases ago, I came across a fragment of a 1794 newspaper with an account of the lynching of a real-estate speculator in New York City.”
“Fruitcake is Forever,” Russell Baker, New York Times, December 25, 1983

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Aunt Nancy: “I have made this fruitcake for many years and always cut it on Christmas Eve to share with my family. I took this recipe out of a magazine many years ago… the story was about a family who always baked this fruitcake and how they began to buy the ingredients right after Thanksgiving. They would buy a few items at a time, as things were very expensive, and money was scarce. The cake was baked a couple of weeks before Christmas and kept in a tin can. The children were allowed to open the cover and smell the cake, but they had to wait until Christmas to enjoy eating the fruitcake. A sliced apple is kept inside the hole of the cake, keeping it fresh and moist. As the apple becomes moldy, replace with a new piece of apple.

Cambino Family photo

Aunt Nancy (far right) with her parents and siblings!

“This is not an ordinary fruit cake. Most people hear fruitcake and skip over the recipe. If you try this… you will love it. I have been making this cake for as long as I can remember, and there is never enough to pass around as everyone wants a piece.”

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Fruitcake is very popular in the South… I remember seeing Claxton Fruitcake in all the grocery stores there, as well as here now in the North. My mother never baked it, or my grandmother, but I remember hearing people talk about it… but never in good terms.

I have never been a fan of fruitcake, but Aunt Nancy insisted that this was not like any regular fruitcake… I gave it a try one year… and it was delicious! I’d suggest if you want to make, do like the woman in the story… buy your ingredients little by little… too much to buy at once!

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Continue reading more of the A to Z…  Cooking Famiglia Italian Foods and Memories

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© 2019, copyright Jeanne Bryan Insalaco; all rights reserved

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8 Responses to 2019: N… A to Z Italian Famiglia Foods and Memories: Nancy’s Xmas Fruitcake

  1. GP Cox says:

    I love fruitcake and look forward to it every year. This year I found a buttermilk recipe and made a few of them, so this recipe will be next!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. THANK YOU FOR SHARING JEANNE, CHINA

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A J says:

    Yikes, how old is the fruitcake you inherited now? And this recipe sounds delicious though I don’t know what “oleo” is and also if the 2 cups of coconut refers to its shavings? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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