When I was a little girl, after every Sunday church service I went to with my Dad, we would stop by my Grammy and Pappy's apartment.
I loved to tell them what I learned in the service, in Sunday school, and how I was doing in school.
When I went with my Mom to church, we'd inevitably pass by my grandparent's apartment building, but it wasn't her family, and my parents were divorced, so we'd head home. I'd still look up, squinting my eyes toward their balcony to see if I could make out if they were there or not.
I remember learning to swim at the YMCA with my Dad and Pappy, pretending to cut and style his hair with my children's hair dresser set, how they would always have root beer barrels and Werther's for me when we came over, and listening to Frank Sinatra on his two in one radio and c.d. player. I also remember being with Pappy when Grammy passed away and being in the hospital with him when he had shingles and was close to passing.
But the weeks coming up to Christmas, there was something I craved that only my Pappy provided: fruit cake.
The American and "mall" ideas of "fruit cakes" disgust me and I don't even understand why they are called fruit cakes. If any type of television show brings up fruit cakes, it's usually to mock how hard and lumpy and inedible they are. When I would tell my friends that I was excited about fruit cake they would look at me with complete disinterest and usually question my taste, because of these imposter fruit cakes on the market.
Although when you see the recipe for my Pappy's fruit cake, you'll wonder why it was called a fruit cake, as it's mostly nuts.
And that actually adds to the reasons I appreciate the sweet treat. Nuts and pure honey have always been expensive. Now I realize why my pappy made it once a year, why it was a special treat, and why he and Grammy gave it as gifts.
This recipe came from my Pappy's mother, Little Nonna. She and her husband, Big Nonna, came to America to join their brother and sister and to have a new life. My Pappy was the first of his brothers and sisters to be born in the United States.
My father recalls how he grew up with Little Nonna hardly ever making dishes with meat because it was expensive, growing over an acres worth of vegetables in her and her brother's backyards to keep them fed, and every Christmas making Fruit Cakes to give to family and friends.
There are a few other things I loved about the preparation of this nutty snack that I remember from my childhood, a few things I loved about this dish and recipe growing up that haven't changed, and there are a few new things that I love about it now, as I'm older, and make it myself.
Something I could only love about it then:
Sitting at the dining room table with my father as he chats to Pappy, I'd peer into the kitchen and watch my 78 year old Pappy knead and work the mixture with gloves on, over and over again, until it was perfect. I saw how much hard work and love went into it, and then I loved it even more.
No one makes it in my family now, which makes me hold onto those memories in my heart even more.
Something I loved about it then and now:
I was excited for it every Christmas. Because it came only once a year, I knew it was coming when Christmas was getting close. Since I was a grandchild, he'd give me money in a card, and our home was given a fruit cake to share. I couldn't wait for that tin to land in our kitchen.
I savored it and wanted to. As a child, even though I was really excited to receive the sweet treat, I'd count out the slices that were designated to me and I'd cut them into pieces so I could spread them across as many days as possible.
I'm pretty sure it was the only thing I was good at savoring as a child.
Something I love about it now:
Every time I look at the recipe, I am overjoyed by how simple it is. It's everything I stand for now when it comes to cooking: every ingredient is whole (except maybe the all-purpose flour.) Even though there are 11 steps, they are easy to understand and follow.
This is the first Christmas that I am going to attempt to make this family recipe. I'm really looking forward to seeing how it goes!
And now I humbly present to you, my Pappy's Fruit Cakes!
This post was written for Project Stir. Project STIR is a series of documentary films launching this fall on Kickstarter. The films will follow Abuelitas, Nans & Mamaws passing down heirloom recipes in kitchens around the globe including countries like: Panama, New Zealand, Turkey, Croatia & England. Click here to learn more about how to be involved.
Pappy's Fruit Cakes
1/4 lb Walnuts
1/4 lb Hazelnuts
1/4 lb Almonds
1/4 lb Pecans
1/4 lb Brazil Nuts
1 lb Raisins
1 pint Honey
3 cups All Purpose Flour
1. Chop all the nuts.
2. Place the nuts in a large bowl.
3. Add flour and mix well.
4. Add raisins and mix again.
5. Add honey and mix, with rubber gloves on, until well incorporated.
6. Preheat oven to 350.
7. Very lightly grease a nonstick cookie sheet.
8. Form mixture into 8 inch rounds, 1 inch thick.
9. Bake for 25-30 minutes until just golden brown.
10. Quarter and slice the apples.
11. In an airtight container place a layer of cake, then a layer of aluminum foil, and then a layer of apples. Do not let the apples touch the cakes. Let them set for 3-4 days before eating. Don't let the apples in any longer than 4 days.