I remember reading about Stir Up Sunday years ago in a magazine, accompanied by a photograph of a lovely historic New England church of white clapboard, snow all around but the sun shining brightly. The women of the congregation gathered after morning service on the last Sunday before Advent to "stir up" a batter of fruitcake in a large black iron pot, each woman taking her turn stirring it, always clockwise, and each contributing ingredients. A prayer went heavenward with each stir, and then each woman took a portion home to bake in her own oven. (In England it is Christmas pudding that is made on Stir Up Sunday.)
Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
From The Book of Common Prayer
Fruitcake is a beloved tradition I learned from my mother, although I'm ashamed to admit that I didn't taste her dark fruitcake until I was an adult, and then only because I learned first to love light fruitcake. Now I adore good fruitcake and shake my head in confusion when I hear comedians crack the same tired old jokes about poor old fruitcake each Christmas season. They must be very hard up for material.
My favorite mystery author, Charlotte MacLeod, included a story called "Fruitcake, Mercy, and Black-eyed Peas" written by Margaret Maron, another favorite mystery author, in MacLeod's collection of Christmas mystery stories, Christmas Stalkings.
For some reason, people like to poke fun at Christmas fruitcake and joke about how there's really probably only a hundred or so in the whole United States and they get passed around from one year to the next. Those people never tasted Aunt Zell's.
And they never tasted my Golden Fruitcake either. When I hear the lower form of humor that is fruitcake jokes, I just think, "What's wrong with you poor people?" If they tried a thin slice of mine, surely they would change their minds. I'd be proud to serve mine to any Iron Chef. Of course, there is no candied citron in mine, therefore no bitter taste. I'd never put green cherries in mine either. There are candied red cherries and pineapple and golden raisins, and most important of all, there are dried apricots.
The scent of Christmas enters our house when I begin to mix my fruitcake, actually even the night before when I macerate the bowl of fruits in Calvados. When it's still warm from the oven I drizzle precious drops of Calvados over each cake. It has to be genuine Calvados from Normandy in France. As I take the Calvados from its hiding place, I think of my favorite Frances Parkinson Keyes' novel, Came a Cavalier, where the young American woman in the Red Cross at the end of World War I in France is taken by her handsome French suitor to his family chateau in Normandy.
Constance is a very proper New England girl and this is not a racy book but the scene where she sips her first Calvados is one sexy piece of writing..in a proper way, of course. The faithful bonne Blondine has served them a luncheon of "an omelet, finely flavored with young green chives and mixed with croutons fried in fat," followed by Poulet de la Vallee d' Auge, artichokes, salad, Liverot (a cheese from Normandy) and strawberries with cream. She departs and...
He rose and went to a tall, narrow armoire in the corner, and, unlocking it,
took from it two tiny glasses of etched crystal
and the most extraordinary bottle Connie had ever seen.
It was deeply encrusted with earth, and the neck, all of a yard long,
curved slightly at the end to meet a cork capped with a miniature silver pitcher.
As Tristan tilted the bottle, the lid of this tiny pitcher opened,
and a dark, rich liquid came gurgling out it into the etched glasses.
Tristan says to the woman he has so far courted in vain:
"I shall drink to you!--Madame la Baronne de Freemond, Chatelaine of Malou,
and my own liege lady!"
He raised his glass still higher and began to drink, slowly and sparingly,
savoring each drop. Then he sat his glass down and looked at her.
And that, my friends, was the last time Tristan proposed to her because this time Constance accepted.
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups brown sugar
5 large eggs
3 scant cups flour (do not sift)
2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 lb. candied red cherries, halved
2 9 oz. packages Sunsweet Philipine Pineapple, cut in slivers
2 6 oz. packages dried apricots, cut in half
1 package golden raisins
2 cups pecan halves
1/2 cup Calvados for macerating fruit plus extra
Macerate fruits in 1/2 cup Calvados overnight at room temperature, stirring occasionally.
Cream butter and sugar, stir in eggs. Add dry ingredients and milk, alternating (begin and end with dry ingredients). Stir in flavorings. Mix in fruits and nuts.
Turn into two greased (with solid Crisco) and floured loaf pans. Bake at 250 degrees F. for 2-3 hours. (My oven takes 2 1/2 hours.) Let pans cool on rack 10 minutes and turn out on plate or parchment paper. Drizzle little drops of Calvados over while warm. Cool completely. Wrap in foil, plastic bags and refrigerate. Every week drizzle a little more Calvados over. Keeps a long time and freezes well.