‘Three Sheets to the Wind’ Christmas Cake for Sailors
” What do you do with a drunken sailor?” Well, you definitely don’t give him a piece of this fruit cake.
What follows is a very special recipe for sailors. It is adjusted to be used at minus one foot of altitude ( the kitchen oven for Spiritus is below sea level) and it is made to be cooked in a Force 10 LPG gas-powered boat stove. Preparing and baking it is an act of love in a world of technology that surrounds modern sailing.
A Note from Carolyn
When I was a little girl, somewhere around the ripe age of twelve I decided that the bright green, candied cherries featured in fruitcakes probably came from mutated trees growing near Nuclear Power Plants (after all the first commercial nuclear facility –the Shippingport Atomic Power Station located in Pennsylvania–was activated in December 1957). I mean let’s face it: Real cherries are red, usually a dark burgundy color…They are not jewel-toned shades of green or red…..Cherries look like fruit, not like the sparkly colored-glass baubles adorning gaudy costume jewelry. Slice a piece of your standard Auntie Ruby’s Bestest Fruitcake and it’s pretty to look at but basically tastes like crap. And in my family (with its many elderly aunts named Opal, Pearl–and yes–Aunt Ruby) there was the stomach-turning annual Yuletide obligation to sample their fruitcakes. For years, I was forced to be polite by my mother (who also hated their fruitcakes, but had no moral qualms whatsoever about the efficacy of the “little white lie”).
By the time I was sixteen, I finally figured out that the secret of most of my relatives’ enthusiasm for fruitcake was directly proportional to the amount of various Christmas spirits they’d been imbibing all day. Talk about your rosy glow! They would’ve eaten rat poison and sworn it was the best they’d ever had. Thus it was that when I grew up I promised myself, “I will never make yucky old fruitcake; nor will it ever pass my lips again.”
First rule of the universe: Never say never. Leave it to me to fall madly in love with a man who adores fruitcake. Who gets puppy-eyed woebegone when he thinks there might not be fruitcake for Christmas…It’s positively heartrending.
So for 41 years, I have made fruitcake in all kinds of kitchens–big and small–also at altitudes of 7,800 in the Colorado mountains when the temperature was a nippy -20F during the day; and this year I made it literally below sea level in the cabin of Spiritus. What we do for love. However, my fruitcake has no irradiated cherries and definitely no citron. What it does have is tons of nuts, dried fruits, and plenty of rum. And truth to tell, it actually tastes pretty darn good.
Carolyn’s Almost Old Fashioned Fruit Cake
(Made with Dried Fruit–No Yucky Radioactive Candied Fruit)
La Paz, Mexico /December 2013
½ lb. butter, softened
1½ tsp. ground nutmeg
Sugar–divided (3/4 cup + later, 2/3 cup)
7 eggs, separated
1 TBS. dark molasses
Juice of ¾ orange
Grated orange rind (1 orange)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1¼ tsp. double-acting baking powder
½ tsp. salt
4½ cups pecans, coarsely chopped
½ lb. blanched almonds
10 oz. dried raisins
8 oz. pitted dates, coarsely chopped
6 oz. dried pineapple
6 oz. dried apricots
5 oz. dried tart cherries or dried chopped plums
4 oz. dried mango
6 oz. dried cranberries or Craisins
2 ¼ cups rum (separated)
(Day before) Combine: raisins, dates, pineapple, apricots, cherries (or plums), mango, Craisins (or cranberries), and orange zest in bowl. Add 1 cup of rum. Mix well, cover tightly. Store in cool place–stir occasionally and gradually add 1/4 cup more rum. Winter in La Paz generally means that it can be stored outside overnight on the deck
(Next Day) Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
Cream butter with nutmeg; gradually add ¾ cups of sugar; beat until light. Add egg yolks, beaten until thick. Add molasses and beat well. Add orange juice alternately with 1 cup of flour sifted with baking powder and salt, blend thoroughly. Mix well remaining flour with nuts and fruits (you my add about 1/2 cup more flour, if needed). Stir into first mixture. Add 1 cup of rum to batter. Mix.
Beat egg whites until frothy. Gradually beat in 1 cup of sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. Fold into batter, using fingers.
Grease well and flour one 9 x 5 1/2 x 2 rectangular pan and one 8 1/2 x 4 x 3 rectangular pan. Add batter to rectangular pans, filling about 3/4 way up. I baked 2 cakes per day on two consecutive days–the batter stores easily in the ship’s ice box overnight. (Since this is an extremely thick batter, use fingers to spread and even the mixture in the pans.) Add a pan of water to bottom of the oven to keep moisture in oven while baking. Bake cakes on the middle rack of a very slow oven (250 degrees) 3½ to 4½ hours (depending on altitude).
This Christmas Cake is a koan. A koan is a riddle or question ‘without’ an answer. This question cannot be ‘answered’ because the answer is to taste it. Then, you will ‘know’ why it is so special.