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As you might remember, we moved to Pennsylvania about four years ago. Managing only to return to England once a year, we therefore get a little homesick for certain British treats - marmite on toast, Seville Orange marmalade, REAL milk chocolate, and so on. Much of this homesickness is fended off by regular re-supplies provisioned by well-intentioned friends and relatives on transatlantic visits. However, when I saw your piece about the adventure of the fruitcake, the theme of British delectables in the USA bubbled unbidden to the surface. Since there was a camping trip to Williamsburg and Jamestown (Virginia) in the offing, we thought that bringing a bit of homemade fruitcake to the original colonies would be an appropriate way of extending that theme, and a whole lot better than bringing shop-bought fare.
The only way to do this was (of course) to use your recipe as a starting point. I doubled the cherry quota and included slivered almonds in the mixture, as well as some brandy along with the orange juice. It turned out very nicely, and since we were camping with another family of four with small children (also English), the cake was demolished within two days. Now, what I haven't mentioned (and this is something that even the hardiest NCOTAASD reader may not know) is that in the USA fruitcake is something of a national joke. It certainly seems that recipes for fruitcake were inherited during the period of colonial rule, and there are plenty of places in the USA where one can buy it. But somehow, along the way, it has come to be regarded as the ultimate in unwanted gifts, frequently re-packaged and handed on to the next 'unlucky' recipient, hardening all the way since no-one has heard of feeding such an aging masterpiece with brandy. The association with Christmas doesn't exist over here, so mention of 'Christmas cake' generally meets uncomprehendingly blank stares. I'm fairly sure there was no cake at the Boston Tea Party, so I wonder if you can shed any light on where our friends across the water went wrong.
Yours with thanks,
|Nicey replies: Hello Simon,
I'm very pleased to hear that you have built your own NCOTAASD fruit cake with some extra custom build to order features. Its also terrific news that you took it camping too. Wifey and I are filled with warm fuzzy cake, tea and sitting on the floor thoughts.
I think I once detected in an American sit-com a sideways jibe at the British and fruitcake, and just put it down to ignorance of the good things in life. I think that fruitcakes really became firmly established in the Victorian era. This was also around the time that baking powder and self raising flour came on the scene. Most recipes prior to that time are for fruited breads raised with yeast. So it would seem that the first British colonists had pre-dated this wave of Victorian baking. The emigrating Scots and the Irish were probably America's best hope of getting some decent fruitcake know how after that.
Certainly sounds like a subject worthy of further investigation.
||Dear Nicey and the Wife,|
In the interest of experimentation, I baked a fruit cake at the weekend to the full NCOTAASD specification and brought it to work to have at elevenses with a block of Wensleydale cheese.
The idea was to introduce the non Yorkshire members of staff (myself included) to the alleged practice of eating fruitcake with cheese.
The Yorkshire member of staff was disappointed that the cake provided was not Simnel cake, but having been assured that the cheese was indeed Wensleydale, he quickly relented and tucked in.
The initial reaction was that the cake was a bit on the dry side. This was probably due to my temperamental oven cooking at a higher temperature than that indicated by the dial. This will be rectified on my next attempt.
Apart from the dryness of the cake, the consensus was that the cheese added very little (except in calorific terms) to the cake eating experience as the mild flavour of the Wensleydale was completely overpowered by the fruit.
I am intending to try again with a moister cake and a white Stilton, but I don’t really see the practice catching on.
|Nicey replies: Keith,
Thanks for taking up the challenge on this one. Sorry to hear your cake was a bit dry, it will change its texture with keeping which is why we always leave ours a week in the tin before we tuck in. So it will probably improve a good bit by the weekend. Also as you say ovens can be very tricky. Our gas oven changes it behaviour depending on what its in it and how the heat circulates. If I have two things on two shelves then we are into the realms of needing super-computing models like those used to forecast the weather to predict what will happen. I think in our first few dabblings with fruit cake we would sometimes over do it a bit so it does come down to a bit of trail and error to get them just right.
I'm now struggling with the fact that I now seem to aspire to owning an oven thermometer. This seems a bit Heston Blumenthal-esk, and therefore counter to the free spirited and artisanal nature of baking. I can see both sides of the argument so really need to work this one through a bit more.
||Dear Nicey and the Wife,|
I have just read with interest the correspondence from Nick Q relating to the consumption of cheese with fruitcake.
This very topic was discussed in the office recently with one of my colleagues, Nicky, admitting to indulging in this very practice.
This blows the theory that it is a ‘Yorkshire thing’ as she comes from somewhere just north of London and has no connections with Yorkshire.
I was initially slightly perturbed at the concept, but curiosity is beginning to get the better of me and I will probably try some fruitcake with a bit of Wensleydale at the weekend, using your very own recipe.
I might also give the tea loaf recipe from Lois McGrath a go. This sounds a bit like something my mother used to make, but she never weighed or measured anything so getting a recipe from her was virtually impossible.
|Nicey replies: Yes I'm slightly curious to know what it's like too. I think if the atmosphere was relaxed with the right sort of cheese and a cake that I was comfortable with then I might give it a go.
I did make the tea loaf, I think it could have had another five minutes in the oven as its just a tiny bit soggy at the top. I can see that it certainly is the sort of thing that one could fiddle around with bunging in a bit of this and that. We are about to see this little lot off in a minute with the YMOS.
My Grandad was a big fan of a bit of cheese with his Christmas cake. All that side of the family did it. They were Lancastrians. I don’t recall him ever leaving his hometown of Clitheroe in his entire life apart from his jaunt to North Africa in the 1940s to deal with Rommel and catch malaria so I don’t think it was a habit he acquired outside his natural environs. The cheese of choice was a nice bit of Tasty Lancs. which is a crumbly cheese with quite a sharp, tangy flavour.
I am a Yorkshireman so generally don’t like to discuss my part-Lancastrian ancestry but I feel it is important that I make this contribution to the discussion as it suggests the cheese/cake combo. is not limited to the East of the Pennines.
I hope this helps in the debate.
||Nicey & Wifey,|
Having been an avid fan of your site for a few years now, imagine how pleased I was to discover that I was working for a group of likeminded tea-enthusiasts. So much so that we have formed a tea society. We are the Backline crew for George Michael's Band, so we set up the instruments and do a lot of swanning around and such. Our tour merchandise has just turned up and attached is a picture of us all wearing the pure new wool sweaters emblazoned with '25Live Tea Society' around a little teapot on the right arm, and on the breast our names, tea preference, and how we take it. I have Frommy, Earl Grey, White no Sugar.
As you can see from the photo we have a blue Delft tea service (second hand from a Plymouth charity shop) with hand knitted tea cosy (Ken's mum-in-law) and a macrameed sugar bowl cover (Ken's Auntie). We take afternoon tea daily after linecheck (this is when we check all the instruments work before the band come in to play).
We are the envy of the rest of the tour - so far no comment from George though.
Keep up the good work.
Frommy & Cyril, Kerry, Ken, Lance, Turbo & Dan (The 25Live Tea Society)
same only bigger
|Nicey replies: Well that's really opened our eyes to the glamorous backstage world of a major international recording artist. We never knew it could be so refined. Of course it has to be a distinct advantage having your tea preferences emblazoned on your chest. Should you perchance to doze off you can be gently awakened with the cup of tea of your choice by any passer by. Wifey reckons George would do well to get one of your nice woolies too.
Nice Fruitcake and Tiffin shot too.