Today is November 3 and stores have made the switch from selling Halloween to selling Christmas. There is an unofficial custom here in Canada, among people who celebrate this particular holiday, to wait until after Remembrance Day (November 11) to start decorating homes for Christmas. However, long ago the baking had to start at this point if there was any hope of having a really delicious fruit cake. So today is the start of my Christmas baking using recipes from the 1906 Berlin Cook Book. There are many fruit cake recipes in the cook book since it was a cake suitable for tea, birthdays, weddings and other special occasions. I decided to start with a simple recipe that appears to make a small amount of cake. Armina Mager says her Fruit Cake will make one large or two small cakes.
Clearly Armina Mager’s idea of two small cakes is different from mine. There are six cups of flour in this recipe so I had to pull out the largest mixing bowl in my cupboard. Some of the other recipes have so much fruit in them that I think I’m going to have to get a larger mixing bowl before attempting them. I used a smaller bowl for the wet ingredients and the big bowl for the dry.
The first step was to cream the butter and sugar. Next I added the three medium eggs. Once they were well mixed, I added the sour cream. I used modern sour cream rather than adding some vinegar to cream. Molasses was the last wet ingredient. Next I measured the various dry ingredients. Flour first into the bowl and then the baking soda. One teaspoon seems like a very small amount for so much flour but fruit cakes are generally intended to be denser than other cakes.
I grated the three nutmegs next using my nutmeg grater. If you are new to this task beware of your knuckles and have a bandaid or two handy (or get someone else take care of it and let them worry about it). You don’t have any whole nutmeg or a nutmeg grater? Then add about three tablespoons of ground nutmeg. I added the cloves next and made sure everything was well mixed. This is important before adding the other ingredients.
I started adding the fruit to the dry ingredients. Coating the raisins, currants and citron peel in flour helps prevent them from sinking to the bottom of the cake. One pound (16 ounces) of sultana raisins equalled three cups. One pound (16 ounces) of currants was also three cups. A quarter pound (4 ounces) of citron was one cup. I stirred all this together and then started mixing in the bowl of wet ingredients. This took some time to avoid scattering flour all over the kitchen. I still had a bit of a flour snowstorm on my table despite my care.
I greased and floured two round cake pans. One was a regular pan but the other is a large springform pan. This style of pan did exist in 1906 but was not made of aluminum like mine. I debated about the temperature of the oven. Generally fruit cake is baked for a long time at a low temperature. I decided to start off at 300 degrees F. and I’ll check the cakes after an hour. I expect the smaller cake to finish baking first.
This is a time-consuming cake to make and yet I had some advantages compared to Amina Mager. I didn’t have to do anything about the fuel for my stove except pay the hydro (electricity) bill. She had to seed her raisins and sort her currants. Mine were already seeded and clean. She had to chop her citron. I bought mine precut. In fact it is almost impossible to find a chunk of citron today. Years ago I bought one in an Italian baking supply store in Boston but it is the only time I’ve ever seen real candied citron.
Armina Mager doesn’t appear in either the 1901 or 1911 census although there are people with that surname elsewhere in Ontario. She is listed in the Waterloo Region Generations website. Armina Minerva Mager was born in 1872 and lived at 70 Peter Street in 1910. Her father was a minister. This was a long-lived family. Armina died in 1967 (age 95), her father was 97 when he died and her mother was 96.
I like nutmeg so I expected to like this fruit cake (at least as much as I like any fruit cake). I sampled the first small fruit cake after it baked an hour and it was good. I left the larger fruit cake for another half hour. Both cakes will need to “mellow” before serving close to Christmas. I’ve decided to “feed” the smaller cake. This is often done to ensure the fruit cake is moist and full of flavour. I’ll wrap it in cheesecloth soaked in brandy. When the cloth dries more brandy is added.
1 cup butter, 2 cups sugar, 1 cup molasses, 6 cups flour, 1 cup sour cream or milk, 3 eggs, 1 teasspoon [sic] soda, 1 pound raisins, 1 pound currants, 1/4 pound citron, 3 nutmegs, 1 tablespoon cloves. This will make one large cake, or two small ones.