20 December 2007

Fruitcake surprises and other surprising recipes

In New York, many women who bake (Caribbean) black cake are also churchgoers who avoid alcohol; some make an exception for black cake and use rum, but others use lower-alcohol Manischewitz Concord grape wine. Some said they now prefer the way it works with the fruits.

“The Passover wine is the best,” Ms. Barnes said. “I like it so much I send it to my mother in Jamaica for her cake.”

– Julia Moskin, A Fruitcake Soaked in Tropical Sun, (with Black Cake Recipe), the New York Times, Dec 19, 2007

Substitutions! It's a fine cook who thinks past tradition. Here's a recipe that's a good combination of ingredients that you'll need to find substitutions for and that you'll want to find substitutions for, including the recipe itself. Listed on a menu, it's sure to provide much Holiday Surprise.


Put a cut-up chicken into a stewpan with a quart of water, a cabbage-lettuce, a small bunch of balm and burrage, a small handful of chervil, three ounces of prepared Iceland moss, half an ounce of picked gum-arabic, and a little salt ; stir over the fire until it boils, and then remove it to the side to continue gently boiling for an hour. It must then be strained into a basin for use.
This broth, when cold, becomes gelatinized ; it may be given warm, or eaten as a jelly.

The balm, burrage, and chervil are sweet herbs, and may be obtained at Covent Garden, or in any gentleman's garden. The prepared moss is to be had only at Savory and Moore's Bond Street. Note. — The use of this pectoral is efficacious in pulmonary diseases.
Francatelli's Cook's Guide, 1869

But perhaps you prefer something more modern, Inquire Within Upon Everything's 1920s-ish


Take three pounds of knuckle of veal, one cow-heel, a large onion stuck with cloves, some sweet herbs, two blades of mace, six peppercorns, eighteen forcemeat balls, a little lemon juice, and a small glass of sherry (ed. note — enter the Manischewitz?). Put everything, except the forcemeat balls and the lemon juice, into an earthen jar and stew for six hours ; when cold skim off the fat and strain the liquor. Add the forcemeat balls and lemon juice, cut up the meat into small squares and warm up the soup.

Or perhaps you prefer something more modern yet, and are willing to take a chance.


Dried apricots
Dried pitted prunes
Sultanas or raisins
Almonds or other nuts (optional)

Take an equal amount of all three dried fruits, such as a handful of each, to one lemon. Slice lemon into very thin slices, removing seeds. Strew lemon slices in bottom of casserole dish or big glass jar. Cover with dried fruits. Cover with water, and then some. Leave for three days at least, making sure that the liquid covers the fruit completely. The longer you leave it, the more syrupy and rich the liquid will be. Don't add any sugar or other sweeteners, regardless of what other recipes say about this classic compote. Don't cook it or fuss with it. Don't stew over it but let it be. Add almonds (or pistachios or pine nuts, or no nuts at all, if you don't want them) at the beginning or at the end, depending upon your taste. If soaked from the beginning, nuts become turgidly delicious. If added at the end, they add texture and more taste contrast, so one rule might be that if they're soaked from the beginning, then serve this with a crunchy shortbread. Serve whichever way, with real yoghurt on the side.

This is comfort food that is beautiful and fragrant, and it's for any time of the year– at room temperature, hot, or cold. The combination of dried fruits is entirely up to you. Chinese dates and and figs are perfect in this. A small amount of currants is good, but they can overwhelm, so it must be only a small amount. Add no candied fruits, and no fruits that are really candied but don't admit it (such as "sweetened" cranberries). The lusciousness of this stew comes from what leaches out of the natural sugars in the dried fruits, contrasted with what's not naturally sweet.

The only absolute is the lemon, and there, the amount, just as the amount of water you add is up to you. The liquor of this is addictive, and its strength is entirely up to your taste and patience.

For people who love lemon (and all the best people do), the lemon slices are the best part.

And finally, here is my recipe for a truly


Pitted dates

Put the dates in a pie dish. Pour the cream over the dates to cover. The cream can be as rich as you like (it's your funeral, or better yet, your guests'!) but the dates must be covered by the cream. Wrap the dish well and put in the fridge for twenty-four hours at least, so that the dates soak up the cream. Depending upon the cream and dates, you might need to add more cream after twelve hours.

Serve with plain unsweetened Scottish oat biscuits or on hot oatmeal as puds. Or in small amounts (this is very rich) in little fancy-wancy chocolate pots or egg cups (or, if you're like me, an assortment of: shot glass, medicine measure, eyewash glass, with the guest of honour getting the eyewash glass) and small spoons, wooden paddles, or what-have-you's to scoop it up.

The Ugly Delicious Sweet is great with stinky cheese.

Or surround a little mound of it with peeled slices of orange that you serve with nothing sprinkled on them, or with a scattering of crushed pistachios. The contrasts are delicious to the tongue and the eye.

No comments: