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All jokes aside, this fruitcake is legendary. It was even served at a wedding

When Ellie King and her husband were married, they had Grandma Phoebe's fruitcake as their wedding cake.
Ellie King
/
Collage by NPR
When Ellie King and her husband were married, they had Grandma Phoebe's fruitcake as their wedding cake.

All Things We're Cooking is a series featuring family recipes from you, our readers and listeners, and the special stories behind them. We'll continue to share more of your kitchen gems throughout the holidays.

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For all the fruitcake haters out there, Ellie King would like you to reconsider with a slice of her Grandma Phoebe's fruitcake.

"I will say when I was a kid, I didn't like fruitcake, but I love it now — and I think there's a fruitcake out there for everyone," said King, who lives in Pittsburgh. "It tastes almost like a spice cake, and the version that we make doesn't have any alcohol in it."

The recipe has been in the King family for more than half a century.

"The family legend is that Great-Grandmother Dimock handwrote a copy of this fruitcake recipe and mailed it to Grandma Phoebe somewhere around World War II," King said. "It's got a bunch of ingredient substitutions, and the thinking is that there were scarcities around the wartime and so they were having to substitute different things."

Great-Grandma Dimock and Grandma Phoebe made sure that the family grew up with fruitcake, King said, but Grandma Phoebe was very strict and insisted that fruitcake was only a Christmas dessert.

As is the case with many family recipes and traditions, the thinking on when fruitcake can be made has changed over the years. The King family's big fruitcake celebration happens the day after Thanksgiving, when she, her parents, siblings, aunt and cousin come together to make a huge batch.

"When everyone else is out shopping and lining up at Walmart to buy new TVs or whatever, we're getting together and making fruitcake," King said.

And that big batch isn't just for them. Loaves of fruitcake are packaged and put in the mail to the rest of the family all over the country so they can have it for Christmas.

"We've mailed it everywhere — from Alaska to New Mexico, Montana, Georgia, Texas, Boston. It gets shipped all over, wherever the aunts are living," King said. "And, you know, one of my uncles may or may not use it as a doorstop, but for the most part people, they love it because it's tradition."

The fruitcake means so much to King that she's found ways to celebrate it outside of the Christmas season. A couple of years ago, her family and friends rode in RAGBRAI, the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, under the name Team Fruitcakes, and they shared their loaves with their team and people they met along the nearly 500-mile route.

"It was a really nice way to introduce fruitcake to like a bunch of family and friends that didn't know anything about fruitcake — [who] also had this idea, this sort of misconception, that fruitcake was gross and like a stodgy old thing that isn't relevant anymore," King said.

King even served fruitcake at her wedding and had people ask her for the recipe afterward. She said she's been glad to share the recipe and remember the women in her family who made it before her.

"If you look back in history, women's stories sort of get overshadowed by the men in their lives, ... and so, to me, it's sort of a way of honoring and remembering and bringing forward their stories," King said. "My grandma, my great-grandma, even my aunt and my mom. It's a way of thinking about them and their importance and their role in my life."

Grandma Phoebe's Famous Fruitcake

Recipe submitted by Ellie King
Pittsburgh, Pa.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound shortening
  • 1/2 pound brown sugar
  • 6 eggs
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 2-3 cups flour (or gluten free 1:1 flour mix)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of each: nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon, ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda dissolved in 1/2 teaspoon hot water
  • 1/2 cup orange juice, cranberry juice, or apple juice (King usually uses orange juice)
  • 1/2 pound almonds (or nuts of your choice)
  • 1 pound raisins
  • 1 pound sultanas
  • 1/2 pound currants
  • 2 1/2 pounds dried or candied or brandied fruit
    (Candied fruit may include citron, lemon, orange, pineapple and cherries. Brandied fruit may include dried pears, apples, apricots, cranberries, golden raisins, etc.)
  • Directions

    Prep time: 1 hour. Cook time: 3-5 hours

    Grease and flour 6 to 8 loaf pans, depending on size (or use parchment paper to line the bottoms for easy removal).

    Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

    Separate the eggs. Mix the shortening, brown sugar, 6 egg yolks and molasses together. In a separate bowl, beat the 6 egg whites until stiff peaks form.

    In another bowl, mix 2-3 cups flour with the spices. Combine your fruit with the flour/spice mix.

    In the largest bowl you have (a clean turkey roasting pan works well), slowly add the shortening mixture to the flour/fruit mixture until combined. Gently fold in the egg whites, the baking soda/water mixture and the juice.

    Divide the mixture among the loaf pans. Bake at 300 degrees for 30 minutes, then reduce the heat to 275 degrees. Large loaf pans may take 2 1/2 hours to bake. Small loaf pans will be done sooner.

    Watch for the tops to crack (a sign that they are done!), and check periodically with a toothpick.

    Baker's note: Using a combination of 9-inch and 4.5-inch loaf pans, the recipe makes either two large and six small loaves or four large and two small loaves.

    Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Wynne Davis