Tuesday, December 11, 2007

WE FOOD - Give WE our blackcake!

by Natasha Samuels

Mention fruitcake (aka blackcake, rum cake, Christmas cake) to an American, and you are sure to get the yucky face along with a laundry list of suggestions of what else should be done with it other than eating it.

For the record, 1) I will not use it as a doorstop; 2) I will not suggest to the town councilors to try using fruitcake as an alternative material for patching potholes; and 3) I do not plan on attending your annual fruitcake toss.

Americans also fear fruitcake because of its ability to err… persevere. It’s not uncommon to hear stories of fruitcakes that were gifted to a family and then re-gifted to the giver the following year and so on.

In Waukesha, Wisconsin a man discovered a fruitcake, originally sent to him in 1962 by his aunt while he was stationed in Alaska. Apparently, the fruitcake was shipped home with his belongings where they sat in an attic until it was found in April of 2006. No word on if he tried a slice or if he placed it back into storage.

The most unbelievable fruitcake story broke in 2003 when Jay Leno of NBC’s Tonight Show tasted a 125-year-old fruitcake after which he exclaimed, “it needs more time!”
While Americans scoff at fruitcake, the holidays just wouldn’t be the holidays to West Indian people without it.

Like the American version, ours, which we call blackcake (well, blackcake if you are from the other islands and Christmas cake if you are from Jamaica) is also chock full of raisins, citron and candied fruits.

In our version, we blend out those un-aesthetically pleasing to the eye fruits and we add a key and very important ingredient, rum. In our version, the blended fruits soak for months in the rum bath until its time to make the cake.

Perhaps it is this not so subtle over proof ingredient courtesy of Jay Wray and his nephews, or uncle Appleton V/X which makes our version cherished and not scoffed at.

As a result, you would be hard pressed to find any jokes about fruitcakes amongst West Indian people and it will be highly unlikely to find one of those glossy flyers advertising something like a St. Elizabeth reunion and blackcake toss.

And we love the fact that it…ahm, perseveres. Just douse it with your favorite rum or wine and it’s good as new.

Caribbean Fruit and Rum Cake recipe

2 cups currants
3 cups raisins
1 cup prunes, pitted
2/3 cup mixed citrus peel
2 ¼ cup dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 tablespoons rum, (add more if needed)
1 ¼ cup sherry, (add more if needed)
1 lb/2 cups softened butter
10 eggs, beaten
1 lb/4 cups self-rising flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 10-inch round baking pan

1) Wash the currants, raisins, prunes and mixed peel, then pat dry. Place in a food processor and process until finely chopped. Transfer to a large jar, add ¾ cup of sugar, the mixed spice, rum and sherry. Mix well and then cover with a lid and set aside for 2 weeks to 3 months.

2) Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease and line a 10-inch round cake pan with wax paper.

3) Sift the flour, and set aside. Cream together the butter and remaining sugar and beat in the eggs until the mixture is smooth and creamy.

4) Add the fruit mixture, then gradually stir in the flour and vanilla extract. Mix well, adding 1-2 tablespoons of sherry if the mixture is too stiff.

5) Spoon the mixture into the 10-inch pan, cover loosely with foil and bake for about 2½ hours until the cake is firm and springy.

6) Allow to cool overnight. Sprinkle the cake with more rum if it is not to be used immediately. Wrap the cake in foil to keep it moist.

Recipe by Rosamund Grant, Taste of the Caribbean (New York: Smithmark Publishers Inc. 1995) pg. 82

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