Grammie's Heirloom Irish Fruit Cake
“Cousin Cardamon, can we try to make Grammie’s fruit cake for Yule?” Alanna had taken to baking as a stress reliever for her studies. She knew most of the ingredients by memory, except for the list of fruits. Some how Gaia added a unique combination each year.
“Did she tell you to soak the fruit in whiskey?” The silver haired healer asked with an amused quirk to his right eyebrow.
Alanna wondered how he did it. She’d never figured out how to move hers. Her dad could, and so could Grammie.
“Whiskey is it? She never said exactly what she used. How am I supposed to get whiskey?” Alanna demanded.
“I have an especially good aged bottle here in the kitchen.” He turned to tap the lock on a carved rosewood cabinet door. It clicked open as his gnarled index finger touched the silver lock releasing the magic barrier.
“If you’ll allow me, I’ll take the walk to the village tomorrow and bring home the fruit I need. Raisins, sultanas, sour cherries, cranberries, oranges and lemons for zest and their juice for the glaze. Oh, and I’ll need nuts. Walnuts, almonds and pecans.”
“You’ve done well child, your skills in healing are building well and your knowledge of plants is impressive. Your friend Chin Lee has given you a foundation much better than most. In fact, you’ve given me a few surprises, my dear.” Cardamon admitted. “I wonder if he has some power of his own?”
“So. can I go to the village?”
Her tutor chuckled. “Of course, we’ll get your cousin Roark to drive and we’ll make a proper trip of it. Let’s go right into Galway. I don’t think you want to try driving on the right side of the road. Make your list.”
“Chin Lee studied with the monks in Tibet before his family came to America. He was friends with the great Chief Crowfoot’s grandson and learned from their medicine woman. He surprises me, and Grammie all the time.” Alanna said. “I have my learner’s permit, I got it last year.”
“We’ll let Roark drive. He’s used to my rambling ways. We’ll stop in the village for breakfast tomorrow and go on from there.” Cardamon left carrying the crystal decanter of whiskey he’d retrieved from it’s hiding place.
Alanna sat at the table and pulled a notepad toward her. She missed her family fiercely, but the opportunity to learn from Cardamon before he took his leap into the stars was priceless. Thinking about the recipe, she began to write.
3 cups of flour, double sifted
¾ pound of butter
1 and 1/2 cup of sugar
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
1tbsp of baking powder
½ cup of raisins
½ cup of sultanas
½ cup of fresh cranberries
½ cup of sour black cherries
She paused and tried to remember what Gaia had used for spices remembering their conversation the previous Christmas. The sour black cherries would be difficult. She might have to ask her uncle James to zap some to her. The tree at home would have a few still clinging to its branches even though they’d picked most of them for tincture recipes. But the spices?
All spice, of course, fresh ground nutmeg, both of which they had in the kitchen and the workshop. Cinnamon, powdered form, Cardamon only had sticks. In her mind she heard Grammie’s words.
“I’ve never written the recipe down. Each year it’s slightly different, but the flour, eggs, butter, and baking powder is about the same. It takes a very long time to bake, at low heat, my grandmother made it each year and let it sit wrapped tight in foil for weeks before Yule.”
Gaia had put the softened butter and sugar into the mixing bowl earlier. Now the mix master whipped the combination furiously whisking it into pale fluffy mounds.
“Don’t forget to let your eggs sit out on the counter. Cold eggs won’t do well in this cake.” She began cracking them and dropping them into the creamed sugar, letting each disappear completely before adding the next.
“Sift the spices, baking powder, and a bit of salt together for me, Alanna.”
The machine whirred and Alanna raised her voice to be heard as she shook the mixture through the sieve a second time. “This smells wonderful.”
“Doesn’t it just?” her great grandmother’s voice purred in satisfaction. “Bring that over here, and while I add it to the mixer, you can take the fruit I drained earlier and sprinkle some flour over it. That way it won’t all sink to the bottom of the cake when it bakes. Make sure it all gets coated with a fine layer.”
She remembered the alcohol wafting from the bowl, but to her nose it all smelled the same. A strong odor that caught in her throat causing a quick cough, which made her wonder what the big deal was. Why did people love it so? Grandda would sit with a glass of whiskey each evening, and mom loved a glass of wine. Her stomach lurched and she had to swallow hard every time the fumes snuck into her nostrils. But in Grammie’s Irish fruit cake, it tasted wonderful.
“What’s in it?” Alanna recognized the raisins, and the candied fruit pieces.
“A little of this and a bit of that, but you always need the candied stuff. Only a small package though. I use the leftover cranberries from the sauce at Thanksgiving, and tart cherries of one sort or another.”
She shook her head thinking of how they spent Black Friday. It was much more to her liking than fighting for the best bargain or standing in line for hours before a store opened to the surging splore of shoppers.
She picked up the pen she’d clipped to the note pad and continued making her list.
1 package of candied fruit
1 cup flaked almonds
½ cup of crushed walnuts
½ cup of crushed pecans
She hoped they could find them in bulk. Then she could get exactly enough for this recipe although she did enjoy them for snacks.
Alanna sensed Cardamon’s return and turned to study the wrinkled visage. His eyes met hers, deep blue with their strange spot of brown in the lower part of the iris. They were same shade as Auntie Morgan’s but for that oddly shaped dollop of amber tinged tan. He watched her with the same intensity he always did, like he could see into her soul. She wondered if her gaze gave him the same shuddering response, she had to him.
“You’re a healer, Alanna, and an empathic one at that. Of course, you can make me shiver at times as well.” His thin lips formed the words answering her unasked question.
“I’ve remembered everything for the list, I think. The only thing now, is how long do I soak the fruit for? I never asked Grammie.”
“I think overnight. Once we get everything home, and you decide when you’re going to bake, you soak the fruit in a covered bowl overnight. I remember our grandmother smacking papa’s hands when he tried to sneak a bit of it once.” His eyes blurred with the memory.
“I’ll have to mix this by hand this year. I hope it turns out.”
“It always did when my own grandmother made it, and I’m sure yours will to. You have strong hands, dear girl. You’ll have no trouble.” He reached behind him seeking his habitual glass of spirits.
She smiled; he’d left the whiskey in the front room.
“It’s by your chair in the other room,” she reminded him. “I’ll join you with some tea in a moment.”
She stood and plugged the pumpkin orange electric kettle into the wall outlet. Selecting herbs from the cannisters sitting against the back of the counter, she mixed several with calming properties. Thinking of sleep brought jitters as always, dreams which had plagued her in Montana, recurred nightly here. More vivid with each passing week, she knew there had to be a reason for them, but what?
“Bring your tea when it’s ready, child. I’ll tell you a story, of days gone by and the first healer in our line. She was a strong woman, Muireanne, and wise with her power.” His brogue broadened a bit as he recalled the tale he wished to share. His slender frame only slightly bent, stayed stubbornly proud as he went in search of his whiskey.