Friday, December 5, 2014

The Fruitcake Tradition

Again this year, I carried on the Family Tradition of making Mom's "Old Fashioned" Fruitcake for my Dad. Enjoy the memories and photos of this annual adventure!

Tradition is defined as, "the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation...",  and I am honored to continue the Family Fruitcake Tradition for my Dad, Carl Shamblin.

At my house when I was growing up, fruitcake and Christmas always seemed to go together. My Mom always baked her fruitcake several weeks before Christmas to give it time to "mellow" and for the fruits to fully ripen, and my Dad eagerly anticipated this event, especially when it was time to eat!

Store-bought Fruitcake vs Homemade

Sometime after my Mom had passed away, I was visitiing my Dad after Christmas and saw remnants of a purchased fruitcake in a Ziploc Bag on his kitchen table. He told me where he bought it and said it tasted "okay", but it was nothing like my Mom's. At that moment, I made a silent vow that I would carry on the tradition of Mom's Fruitcake. When I got back home, the search for her recipe began. I was so excited when I finally found her folded, aged recipe somewhat hidden in her recipe box. 

I remembered that she deviated somewhat from the original recipe, so I did the same, hoping that I made the right changes. I also remembered that she omitted the cloves, and I thought she used dark raisins. The main difference was Black Walnuts.

The Black Walnut Adventure

Dad likes fresh Black Walnuts for the fruitcake just like Mom used, and preparing them is quite an adventure. I remember that Dad once made an invention to get the hulls off by attaching a tilted wooden contraption to the wheel of his jacked-up truck! When the ignition was turned on, they whizzed down the slant! It was quite a sight! This year's adventure was a little low-key. First, the Black Walnuts were gathered at my Uncle Dana's farm by my Dad. At home, Dad removed the green hulls by first running over them with his truck. He then wore rubber gloves to remove the hulls from the black walnuts. Next, he spread them out  in a dry place and allowed them to dry for 3-4 weeks. When dry and ripe, he cracked them with a hammer and carefully picked out the kernels with a nut picking tool. You may be thinking, "Why not buy them? That would be easier!" Well, it would be easier, but Black Walnuts are not always available, and they are very expensive. The main thing is - these Black Walnuts taste so much better than store-bought!

Picking out the
Black Walnut kernels

Tedious Work

Juice or Brandy?

Fruitcakes need at least a month to "cure" and "ripen" before they are eaten. When my Grandma Shamblin made her fruitcake, Dad said she used blackberry juice to soak it and wrapped it with a white cloth. It was very moist, and everyone loved it.

Grandma's Fruitcake Recipe -
Found in Mom's Recipe Box

Unfortunately, fruitcakes cured with juice don't last as long as when alcohol is used. My family does not drink alcohol, but my parents decided it was needed for curing the fruitcake. When my Dad first starting buying the Apricot Brandy for the Fruitcake, he parked a distance away from the shop, and my Mom hoped no one would see him go in a Liquor Store. As a child I can remember sitting in the car and feeling like our family had been very naughty as Dad returned to the car carrying the  liquor in a brown paper bag! 

Dad is a little more bold now about buying the brandy. Last year when he needed to buy more, he told the store clerk that the Apricot Brandy was for the fruitcake. She replied, "That's what they all say!"

My Dad uses a pastry brush to apply the Apricot Brandy every few days, from Thanksgiving until it is ready to eat.

When do we eat?

Dad's tradition for eating the fruitcake is to cut and share it at the family gathering on Christmas Eve.

Ready, set...

Eventually, Dad freezes leftovers by first wrapping individual slices in aluminum foil and storing the slices in Ziploc Freezer bags. He enjoys the fruitcake during the year and usually saves 1 or 2 slices to eat the next winter before the new fruitcake is ready.

Now, for many years one of my Thanksgiving Traditions is to make "Mom's Old Fashioned Fruitcake" for Dad when I visit him during Thanksgiving Week, usually on Wednesday of that week. It's a long process, but it's great to be able to carry on such a valued Family Tradition! My Dad loves it, and that's what matters. 

For the recipe with photos of Mom's "Old Fashioned" Fruitcake, go to

You may also like My Dad, My Hero.

Merry Christmas, Dad! Enjoy!


  1. This is a wonderful story... I enjoyed every morsel.