It’s Fruitcake Weather

The day after Thanksgiving, I took part in a family tradition. It’s a family tradition that my dad made up, but all traditions have to start somewhere, and we’re up to two generations already. At this rate we’ll take over the world before long.

The tradition is fruitcake, and my dad mass produces it every year to give as Christmas gifts. This year he let me in on the secret. Part of the secret is almost five pounds of maraschino cherries.

20151127_133054_HDR

The day began with fruit chopping. This is far from the first step, but it was the first step I was home for. Before this came going to the grocery store and spending what my dad calls an embarrassing amount of money on dried fruit and nuts. And before that came making the bowls.

20151127_131335

That’s right. Every year he makes a set of matching fruitcake bowls. It’s part of the gift. My mom suspects some people throw away the fruitcake and keep the bowl. For shame!

20151128_102907_HDR

I started chopping with this knife that’s older than I am. My dad brought it back from some country or other. Just like everything from childhood, it seems smaller now. Except in this case it truly is smaller, because it’s being sharpened into oblivion. My dad is a staunch believer in sharp knives, and this one is old enough it’s starting to show. The blade has an arch to it, and it’s not much for chopping anymore.

20151127_130125_HDR

I found myself another very sharp knife, and before long we filled two big stockpots with fruit and nuts. Each got about two liters of orange juice.

20151127_133322

We stirred it all up.

20151127_133620

And let it simmer for three hours until it formed a healthy glop.

20151128_100339_HDR

Fruitcake is mostly fruit, but you do need a little bit of batter to hold it all together. This batter contained no fewer than ten eggs.

20151128_101323_HDR

Following a very scientific process, we mixed the fruit goop and the dough together until it looked about right.

20151128_103150_HDR

Like this.

20151128_104154_HDR

The next scientific process involved filling up the bowls until they looked about right. While not exact, my dad does have standards. I filled my bowls too high and had to redo them.

20151128_104558_HDR

One batch of dough and half the fruit got us 13 bowls. We baked them for an hour and a halfish, then did the whole process (minus fruit) over again, making 26 fruitcakes in all.

20151128_110350_HDR

“But how will these cakes last until Christmas?” I hear you ask, counting the weeks frantically on your fingers. Well first of all, Christmas isn’t very far away, even though I haven’t done any shopping yet. And second of all, we drenched them in enough brandy to kill a horse.

20151129_120822_HDR

Not even the bravest of microbes would risk it.

20151129_120827_HDR

There you have it – the Baessler family tradition. Be very nice to me and you might get one next year.

20151128_130438_HDR

My dad’s the one churning out the bowls and buying the fruit, though, so you have to be nice to him too.

 

A Sudden Windfall

20150821_111357_HDRThere are six gallons of mead on my cellar floor.

I thought I fixed a faulty spigot. It turns out I didn’t.

But let’s not focus on the bad things. At least not until I’ve thoroughly mopped. Because plenty of good things are happening. I racked the lavender and raspberry meads, and they both taste very good. So does the mulberry wine. My Kazakh melon vine has taken way off, and I might actually get to see what its fruit tastes like before the frost.

And I have recently come into a huge amount of fruit.

Keri of kombucha fame let me in on a hot tip: Her fruit tree-obsessed landlord was away on vacation and the yard was getting littered with windfall fruit. He’d given her permission to go in and clear it up a little. If anything, we were performing an important service.

This tiny backyard orchard has plums, pears, and a few varieties of apple. It even has apples and pears growing out of the same trunk, because this old Portuguese landlord I’ve never met is an avid amateur grafter.

The ground was, as promised, littered with fallen fruit. Some had been there for quite a while, but some was brand new. While we were there I got startled more than once by a pear crashing down behind me. 20150821_105750_HDRWe waded around in the wet grass, getting devoured by mosquitoes and sorting the fruit into usable and unusable. The former we split between ourselves and the latter we composted. In the end I think I had something like six pounds each of apples and pears and a couple pounds of plums. And I was supposed to go away to Cape Cod for a week the next day. Cue frantic preservation. 20150821_160712_HDRI was saved by the fact that a lot of the pears weren’t completely ripe yet. I was… reasonably confident that they and the unbruised apples would last a week. But where to keep them? The house was hot, the refrigerator was at capacity, and I still hadn’t recovered from discovering my cellar mangoes full of little rodent toothmarks. Rationalizing that they were free anyway, I sealed them in a five gallon bucket in the cellar and tried not to think any more about it. 20150821_232313_HDRThe remaining apples and pears had some serious holes and bruises, and the plums were so ripe they were dissolving into my table as tried to figure out what to do with them. I’d never made preserves before, but I decided to take a stab. After some over-the-phone reassurance from my mother that I’ve eaten unprocessed jam my whole life and am no worse for wear, I sealed the preserves hot in sterilized old jam jars rather than processing them in the canner. 20150901_160639_HDRThe four light jars are apple and pear, heavy on the pear. The single dark jar is all that’s left of the plums after I ate quite a few. Apple butter was also on the menu. I found a great recipe for overnight apple butter, set the slow cooker on its way, and woke up the next morning to the smell of charcoal and cinnamon. It was not meant to be. 20150901_162219_HDROne week older and a tiny bit tanner, I opened up the bucket and was pleasantly surprised. There was some moisture on the sides and a touch of fuzz on a few stems, but no sign of the writhing mass of worms or near-sentient mold I’d envisioned. I had just enough pears for a gallon and a half of wine. It was meant to be a gallon, but I found myself with extra, and the man at the brew supply store made fun of me the other day for being small beans. 20150908_171547_HDRWith the remaining apples I attempted slow cooker apple butter number two. This time I added plenty of apple juice to keep it moist and woke up to…20150902_090559_HDR…Charcoal and cinnamon. It just wasn’t meant to be.