Christmas Cake and a Silly Song

There are three kinds of people – those who love Christmas cake, those who hate it and those who just want a piece or two, preferably made by someone else. Count me in the later category. Christmas cake was a staple of the season for decades but is now one of those Dickensian desserts which have fallen out of favor, along with mince pie and plum pudding, with many younger people not being familiar with any of them.

My mother used to make Christmas cake every year – one big round pan and two or three smaller loaf tins, and it all got eaten, but by whom I don’t know.  Certainly, none of us kids ate it.  My dad was fond of it, as was my grandmother, who also made her own, a single round one.   Perhaps some of it was given away?  It was always passed around on the same gold glass platter after the big turkey dinner, with a few cookies on the side, as everyone was much too full for a regular dessert. It was something to nibble on with a cup of coffee or tea. I also have a memory of my dad enjoying a slice of it on Christmas Eve with a glass of port, while watching midnight mass or A Christmas Carol, and sometimes I would join him.  The port was an old family tradition, as he seldom drank and a bottle would last from year to year.  Port, which also heralded from Dickens day, is a type of fortified wine like brandy and strong stuff if you’re not used to it.    

Christmas cake is a dark fruit cake often made a couple of weeks before Christmas, and tightly wrapped, to give it a chance to age.  A friend adds brandy to hers once a week to keep it moist. My grandmother added cocoa to hers to make it darker.  It seems every family had a different recipe.  As it keeps well, it was traditionally a popular choice for  wedding cake.  At peek at my mother’s 1945 cooking bible, The Purity Cookbook, has two recipes for dark fruit cake, one for Wedding Cake calling for 12 eggs and 3 and a ½ cups of flour and 8 assorted sized pans, and one for six loaf pans requiring 10 eggs and 8 cups of flour.  My mother’s recipe called for 8 eggs, and made one round bundt cake and 2 or 3 loaf tins.

Does anyone remember these?

In mid-December out would come the big turkey roaster, as it was the only thing large enough to mix all the ingredients in.   She would usually make it in the evening after supper was done, when I could help if I was home, and my dad would be in charge of adding the rum – “Maybe a bit more” although it’s debatable whether one splash or two would make much difference with so much batter.

Here’s her recipe….sort of….as we last made it five years ago and I wrote the instructions down afterwards in an effort to have something on paper.  Like many experienced cooks, her measurements were not exact, but it always turned out good. I believe we froze some of it for the following year, as it freezes well (if you’ve ever found a piece of wedding cake stashed away sometimes the cake lasts longer than the marriage) and gave some away to a snow-shoveling neighbour and a couple of her art friends. It’s always best to ask first if you don’t know what category people are in (see intro) as you don’t want to subject someone to an annual gift of something they have to pretend to like.

So because I had a craving for it this year, (that store bought stuff is dreadful – see song) I decided to attempt a small loaf tin, using the recipe for my Date and Nut Loaf as a starter, (see link), as it is basically a foolproof recipe.  I made a rare visit to the Bulk Barn store for the mixed dried fruit as the packages available in the grocery store were almost expired and had papayas (?) in it instead of dried pineapple.  I hate those bulk food places – the germs – everyone handling the same utensils – but I sanitized before and after, and tried to avoid the green pieces in the mixed fruit bin as those were the ones I always used to pick out of the cake.  I also bought currants there, as what would I do with a whole bag of currents, although I put some raisins in too.  (NB: the pioneers never had access to raisins/dried grapes, hence the preponderance of currents in those old recipes.)   Total cost about $6, although it could have used a bit more fruit.

Here are the ingredients.

I mixed 2 tablespoons of butter, ¾ cup of sugar, one egg, one teaspoon of vanilla.  Added ¾ cup of water to the currant/mixed fruit mixture, (but you could substitute milk or OJ) and a splash of rum – (15ml/1/2 ounce) and added 1 ¾ cups of flour (the kind with baking soda and salt already in it).   Plus a smidgen of spices – cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice. The only thing I forgot was the dates, as I didn’t have any, but in retrospect the stewed dates/water mixture would have made it a darker color, as it turned out much too pale, not fruit-cake color at all.  I added the walnuts after I had prepared a cute little mini-loaf for a friend who reminded me how much she loves fruit cake but is allergic to walnuts.   Baked at 350 for about an hour.

It came out more like a tea bread than a traditional Christmas Cake.

It tasted okay – a bit sweeter than I liked but next time I would definitely add the dates for color, plus more spices, more fruit, less flour and cut back on the sugar a bit. Overall, for a true Christmas cake it needs more work but I would make this again as is for a nice treat with Christmas morning coffee.  Maybe this will be the start of a new Christmas tradition!

In the meantime a neighbour gifted me a chunk of her more traditional cake, which satisfied my craving.

Irish pub – theatre set of musical – When Irish Eyes Are Smiling

And now for the silly song – Miss Fogarty’s Christmas Cake – by the Irish Rovers.  This was part of the song set of a play I saw last September and was very funny with the animated actions of the actors and Miss Fogarty of course. It’s by the Irish Rovers and the lyrics sum up what Christmas Cake haters think about Christmas cake! Hope you enjoy it!

Miss Fogarty’s Christmas Cake – lyrics

As I sat in my window last evening
A letter was brought round to me
A little gilt-edged invitation sayin’
“Gilhooley come over to tea”
Each Christmas the Fogarties sent it
So I went just for old friendships sake
And the first thing they gave me to tackle
Was a slice of Miss Fogarty’s cake

Chorus:
And there were plums and prunes and cherries
There were citrons and raisins and cinnamon too
There was nuts and cloves and berries
And a crust that was nailed on with glue
There were caraway seeds in abundance
Sure if I’d work up a fine stomach ache
That would kill a man twice after eating a slice
Of Miss Fogarty’s Christmas cake.

Miss Mulligan wanted to try it
But really it wasn’t no use
For we worked on it over an hour
But a piece of it wouldn’t come loose
Till Halley came in with the hatchet
And Murphy came in with the saw
But Miss Fogarty’s cake had the power
For to paralyze any man’s jaws

Chorus:

Miss Fogarty proud as a peacock
Kept smiling and talking away
Till she tripped over Flanagans brogans
And spilt the potcheen in her tea
Aye Gilhooley she says you’re not eatin
Try a little bit more of me cake
“Oh no Mrs Fogarty” said I
Any more and me stomach would break

Chorus:

Maloney was sick with the colic
O’Donnell a pain in his head
McNulty lay down on the sofa
And he swore that he wished he was dead
Miss Bailey went into hysterics
And there she did wriggle and shake
And all of us swore we were poisoned
From eating Miss Fogarty’s cake

Chorus:
And there were plums and prunes and cherries
There were citrons and raisins and cinnamon too
There was nuts and cloves and berries
And a crust that was nailed on with glue
There were caraway seeds in abundance
Sure if I’d work up a fine stomach ache
That would kill a man twice after eating a slice
Of Miss Fogarty’s Christmas cake

Yes it would kill a man twice after eating a slice
Of Miss Fogarty’s Christmas cake

Happy Holidays to all my Readers!