My friend Sean and I made our first batch of fruitcake in 1995; I was 16 and he was 17 years old.
It started as a joke. See, we had this theory that nobody actually ate fruitcake, they just hung onto it for a while and eventually re-gifted it. We wanted to see how long it would take before we got one of our own fruitcakes back, so we decided to make some.
Our plan backfired horribly for two reasons: It turns out that people not only eat our fruitcake, they freaking love it. Also, people assumed that since we make fruit cake we must also love fruit cake (not true, folks!) and they’ve started gifting us with fruitcakes of their own.
As you might expect from a couple of teenagers, we knew very little about fruitcake making that first year. Also, we were terrible at math. We drastically overestimated the quantities of ingredients we’d need as we converted from pounds to grams, and schlepped about a three year supply home from the grocery store. It’s a good thing that fruit cake ingredients basically never go bad.
We made mistakes nearly every year. The first year, we didn’t know that there was such a thing as candied citrus peel, so when the recipe called for citrus peel, we spent ages peeling lemons, grapefruits, and oranges and tossed the peel into our fruitcake batter. The cakes were slightly bitter, but people loved them.
One year we accidentally dropped an entire egg into the whirling food processor, shell and all. We stopped and tried picking out the fragments of shell, then looked at each other, shrugged, and turned the machine back on.
The recipe calls for grape or pineapple juice, but we always used whatever kind of juice we found in Sean’s mom’s fridge (though we did draw the line, after serious consideration, at using tomato juice).
You’re supposed to wash and then dry the raisins and currants, a ridiculous process which takes several hours. We may have done this twice and then gave it up. Washing raisins is for chumps!
Apparently you’re supposed to make fruitcake months in advance and let them cure; we’ve made them as late as December 23rd.
But I tell ya, people loved every single one of those cakes.
In the early years fruitcake production took us close to an entire day. We each had jobs that we hated. Mine was chopping the dates, and Sean's was getting elbow-deep into the fruitcake batter to mix it all up. We switched only one year, and then just settled into our groove; I'm a very good date-chopper.
Over the years we've become older, wiser, better, and much more efficient at making fruit cake. We switched to buying the ingredients in exact amounts at a local bulk food store, even phoning in advance to pre-order what we needed.
We switched from cutting up and buttering brown paper bags to using parchment paper, and we're frankly debating whether or not that's even necessary. We discovered pre-chopped dates!
We know our respective jobs well, so we set out a giant “Make Love, Not Fruitcake” button on the counter, and get going. We’ve got this thing down to a science and can now churn out a double batch of fruitcake (yielding about 20 cakes) in a matter of a couple of hours.
(that's not including cooking time - but to be honest we usually peace out on that and just let Sean's mom - the fruitcakes are always made at her house, even now that we are grown-ass adults - know that the cakes are in the oven thanks byeeeee)
A few years in (once we had both reached legal drinking age, I think) we decided it was time to start soaking our fruitcakes in brandy. We bought the cheapest brandy we could get our hands on and worked like this: one for the fruit cake, one for Sean, one for the fruitcake, one for me.
On one thoroughly brandy soaked taxi ride home I attempted to tip my cabbie with a fruitcake; he awkwardly declined.
Now, since I live in Sweden making fruitcake has become a bit of a logistical problem and I’m sorry to say that most years I don't get my act together to book a fruitcake making day when I'm back in BC during the summer.
Sean has carried on the tradition without me, with a single batch each year. I always get a text letting me know that the fruitcakes are done, and he ensures to get one to my dad, a fervent fan of our fruitcake.
This past summer Sean and his mom, Pat, came to stay with us in Stockholm over a long weekend. They were on their way to Copenhagen for the World Hockey Championships, and made a side trip just to visit us. A few weeks ahead of their trip Sean texted me a list of ingredients for fruitcake and surprisingly, I was able to source pretty much everything we needed.
We churned out a limited edition made in Sweden batch of the infamous fruitcake, and even thought it'd been a few years since we made them together, it turns out that making fruit cake is kind of like riding a bike. We divided up the cakes and made sure they got into the hands of our biggest fans - my dad being one of them.
If you had told our 16-year-old selves that 23 years later we'd be making our fruitcake together in Sweden, I'm not sure what we would have thought. It's a story of an accidental tradition, and an unlikely friendship that has stood the test of time.
It turns out all along we have, in fact, made love, not fruitcake... and apparently some mighty fine fruitcake as well.
Originally published December 25, 2011. Updated with the 2018 fruitcake, edited, and re-published December 25, 2018.