My friend Vaughan Mitchell Z"L died this year.
I actually didn’t know him very well. In fact I only met him twice. But we became friends over email after his wife Sally, whom I met online on a medical information site, mentioned that every year her husband made the most fabulous fruitcake.
I love fruitcake.
Yes, there are people who love this thing that everyone’s supposed to hate. That, come Christmas season, is the butt of jokes. Vaughan and I were among these people.
So we started a correspondence about it.
The fruitcake he made was from an old recipe that had been in his family for generations, the original passed down from “Grandmother Sue.” I never asked him whose grandmother it was. Was she his grandmother’s grandmother? His grandmother? And now I’ll never know.
But Vaughan, who was a retired businessman who lived in Texas, used Grandmother Sue’s recipe as a base. He loved to tinker with it. Sometimes he added dried blueberries, sometimes candied cherries, sometimes pecans, sometimes almonds, most times bourbon — but once in a while he’d switch to brandy. And of course he had to bring it up to date. The original recipe had some instructions that included items like “half a ten cent bottle of vanilla extract.”
Best of all, one year he asked whether I would like one.
It was the best fruitcake I ever ate.
For years after that we would both make Grandmother Sue’s Fruitcake and exchange one so he could taste my version and I could taste his.
Vaughan was a smart, funny, generous, soft-spoken man.
I miss him and will miss our fruitcake exchange.
I baked Grandmother Sue’s fruitcake this year. I’m thinking I should give one away.
But who should I send it to?
Grandmother Sue’s, Vaughan Mitchell’s Fruitcake
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon each: ground cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
5 large eggs
1/2 cup molasses
1/4 cup bourbon
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup black currant jelly
1/2 pound golden raisins
1/4 pound dried currants
1/4 pound dried cranberries
1/4 pound chopped dates
1 pound mixed candied fruit (cherries, pineapple, citron) and/or dried fruit (apricots, prunes, peaches, pears)
1/2 pound coarsely chopped nuts
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Grease 3 8”x4”x2-1/2” pans (or 6 small loaf pans) and line the pans with parchment paper. Lightly grease the paper. Combine one cup of the flour and spices and stir with a whisk to blend ingredients evenly. Set aside. Place the butter, white sugar and brown sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and mix at medium speed for 3-4 minutes or until creamy and well blended. Add the eggs and blend them in thoroughly. Add the flour mixture alternating with the molasses, bourbon, vanilla extract and jelly. Place the fruits and nuts in a bowl, add the remaining 1/2 cup flour and toss to coat the fruits and nuts. Add this mixture to the batter and blend it in. Spoon the batter into the prepared pans. Place the pans in a bain-marie (a larger pan filled with enough water to come halfway up the sides of the baking pans). Place the bain-marie in the oven and bake the cakes for 2 to 2-1/2 hours (less time for smaller loaf pans) or until firm. Remove the pans from the bain-marie and let cool for 20 minutes. Remove the cakes from the pan and let cool completely. Cut cheesecloth large enough to wrap the cakes. Soak the cheesecloth in bourbon and wrap the cake with the bourbon soaked cloths. Wrap the cakes in aluminum foil, then plastic wrap. Let mellow for 3-4 weeks. Check occasionally; if cheesecloth seems dry, brush a little more bourbon on top.
Makes 3 (or 6) fruitcakes.