As this season of faith, family, and food approaches, I reminisce not only about holiday seasons past, but also about the original Christmas day so many centuries ago. On a 2013 trip to Israel, I had the privilege of standing in Shepherd’s Field, once traversed by Joseph, Mary, and Jesus, still cradled in His mother’s womb. This was the field where shepherds first saw the rising Christmas star and angels heralded the birth of the newborn king. This was Bethlehem. In Hebrew, “Bet Lehem,” meaning “House of Bread.”
While it may have been wanderlust that brought me to Israel, it was wonder that overcame my senses at every turn of this journey. How can you stand at the genesis of salvation history and not be overcome with wonder? In Bethlehem, I knelt in amazement, as a child does on Christmas morning, when placing my hand on the site of the nativity. I thought of the Magi’s gifts: gold for the child’s kingship, frankincense representing His priestly role, and myrrh foreshadowing the God-man’s destiny on Calvary. There is no greater gift that any of us receive than redemption through the sacrifice of the Bread of Life.
We receive the body and blood of Jesus every Sunday; we break bread with family and friends at meals; we give gifts during the Christmas season in the form of cookies, cakes, and breads. My favorite holiday bread – to give or receive – is fruit bread, which you may know as fruitcake.
According to some researchers, fruit bread was first made 2,000 years ago with pomegranate seeds, pine nuts, and raisins mixed into barley mash. In the Middle Ages, fruit bread consisted of spices, honey, and fruit preserves. In the 19th century, fruit bread became the traditional wedding cake of England. Fruitcake by any other name is still fruit bread: Italian Panettone, German Stolen, Bulgarian Keks, Mexican Three Kings Bread, Spanish King Cake or Twelfth Night Epiphany Bread, Dutch Ontbijtkoek, Norwegian Julekake, Czech Vanocka, Provence Pompe de Noel, Slovenian Potica, Greek Christopsomo or “Christ Bread,” and Romanian Cozonac.
My gift to you this Christmas season was actually bequeathed to me from my maternal grandmother: her recipe for Super-Moist Fruitcake. Don’t laugh! There is no doubt that this humble yet remarkable dessert will make you wonder why you never tasted such a delicious fruit bread before.
CHEF JOHN D. FOLSE is an entrepreneur with interests ranging from restaurant development to food manufacturing, catering to culinary education. A cradle-Catholic, he supports many Catholic organizations including the Sister Dulce Ministry at Cypress Springs Mercedarian Prayer Center in Baton Rouge, LA.
MICHAELA D. YORK is vice president of communications for John Folse & Company.
MAMÈRE’S SUPER-MOIST FRUITCAKE • prep time: 3 hours • yields: 1 cake
4 oz. each, candied red and green cherries
8 oz. candied pineapple, coarsely chopped
8 oz. packaged pitted dates, coarsely chopped
1 c. raisins
1 c. Craisins® Original Dried Cranberries
1 c. each, chopped pecans and walnuts
3 c. self-rising flour, divided
4 large eggs
1½ c. sugar
1 c. melted butter
2 tsps ground cinnamon
½ tsp. ground nutmeg
1 c. pineapple juice
½ c. brandy
6 each, candied red cherries and green cherries, optional
additional brandy or cognac for flavoring, optional
Preheat oven to 275°F. Grease one (10-inch) tube pan, set aside. In large mixing bowl, combine fruit and nuts with 1 cup flour until well coated. Set aside. In separate bowl, combine eggs, sugar, and melted butter, blending well with spatula. Continue to stir, while slowly adding remaining flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and pineapple juice. Whip ingredients thoroughly until well blended. Add fruit-nut mixture and ½ cup brandy; then mix until thoroughly combined. Pour batter into greased tube pan and bake approximately 2½ hours or until a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean.
NOTE: After 1½ hours of cooking, you may wish to gently press 6 candied red cherries and 6 candied green cherries into the top of the fruitcake for decorative purposes. Continue to cook for the remaining hour. Once cake is done, remove from oven and cool. Once cooled, cover with aluminum foil and store in refrigerator. From time to time, ladle 1 or 2 tablespoons brandy or cognac over cake for a spiked flavoring.
NOTE: You may wish to bake 4 or 5 of these cakes at a time and offer them as Christmas gifts to family and friends.