'These are the flavours of Christmas': Why you should love fruitcake

It seems it's there on every Christmas table: fruitcake. To some it's a relic of the past but to others it is an essential part of the holiday season.

3 experts share their fruitcake secrets

It is the rare Christmas table that doesn't have a plate of fruitcake on it. (Julie Van Rosendaal)

It seems it's there on every Christmas table: fruitcake. To some it's a relic of the past but to others it is an essential part of the holiday season.

CBC P.E.I. Mainstreet's Angela Walker brought together three fruitcake experts — two amateurs, Lynda Larter and Matt Walters, and one pro, Ilona Daniel — to share their fruitcake secrets. Fruitcake is a central part of Christmas for all of them, whether they're eating it themselves or giving it as gifts to family and friends.

'A strange thing'

She started by asking why so many people are skeptical of fruitcake.

Lynda Larter, Ilona Daniel and Matt Walters shared their sweet secrets to fruitcake success. (Angela Walker/CBC)

"I think it's the name. It just sounds unusual, different, and not something that people would necessarily latch onto," said Walters.

"It just seems like a strange thing."

"I think it's about the raisins," said Daniel.

"There's a lot of people either love 'em or hate 'em with raisins. Anything that has dried fruit like that can really make people run the other way or make run with full arms open."

'I don't personally eat fruitcake'

"I'm not a good one to ask," said Larter. "I don't personally eat fruitcake myself and here I am baking them all the time."

There's nothing in this you shouldn't like.— Matt Walters

But while she's not eating it herself, fruitcake is a major annual endeavour for Larter. She makes a couple dozen for the Christmas season, tossing several pounds of fruit into every one.

"Most of the people I give them to are fruitcake lovers, so you hear about it a long time afterwards," she said.

Because she doesn't eat it herself, Larter takes notes on the comments of others and regularly adjusts the recipe.

A levy tradition

Daniel perfected her fruitcake while working as a chef at Fanningbank, the official residence of P.E.I.'s lieutenant-governor.

Lynda Larter's fruitcake before she puts it in the oven, and Chef Ilona Daniel's easy fruitcake — baked, sliced and so pretty. (Submitted by Lynda Larter and Ilona Daniel)

At New Year's she would make about a 100 for the annual levy. To make that many, Daniel had to create some shortcuts, which she said led her to a recipe that's perfect for time-crunched chefs.

"You want the taste of Christmas, you want all of those good, big spices and all of that, but we just don't have the time," she said.

Her secret is a jar of mincement, which provides all the spice and moist fruit without having to go through the boiling.

Lessons from a Chinese immigrant

Walters is more old school.

His recipe comes from a friend's grandmother, who is an immigrant from China. She found the recipe in a Canadian magazine and it became a family tradition.

Fruitcake is a divisive holiday treat — some love it and others love to hate it. (Chris Steward/The News & Observer/AP)

The traditional fruitcake requires a long baste in a rum-soaked cheesecloth. Walters baked his Oct. 22.

The cake comes out of the oven crumbly, but after six weeks in the cheesecloth, develops a dense texture.

And the quality of the rum is important, he said.

"You want a rum that actually has some flavour depth to it, some character, because that's what's going to stay. The alcohol is going to evaporate off," he said.

As for fruitcake's reputation, Walters doesn't understand it. The dried fruit, the spices, the rum …

"These are the flavours of Christmas, really," he said. "There's nothing in this you shouldn't like."

More P.E.I. news

With files from Angela Walker


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