One of my new favorite Christmas foods is an Ohio Christmas Cake. I found the recipe a few years ago when I was transcribing my great-grandmothers hand-written recipes. I stumbled across it again last year when I was looking for Christmas cookie recipes. Now, my grandmother (maternal) and her mother were known for their extensive Christmas cookie baking. They would bake at least a half dozen types of cookies. I remember chocolate covered peanut butter logs, fruitcake cookies, sticky sweet bar cookies, what we called St. Nick cookies but were really Mexican wedding cookies, molasses cut-out cookies, nutmeg cookies, and sugar cookies among the offerings.
But, back to the cake. I liked the sound of it because my father (both my real father and step father) were from Ohio. My step father loved fruitcake and the recipe resembled a fruitcake–lots of nuts, candied citrus peel, dried fruit, spices. And, my grandmother (maternal) also always made fruitcake at Christmas, usually to give away as gifts. One of my holiday baking memories is making fruitcake with her when I was about 9 years old. She took me shopping for the ingredients and we made the cake together as a gift for my step-father.
I decided to make this Christmas cake last year in memory of my stepfather. The recipe was obviously old. It only listed ingredients (such as “one glass jelly” and “candied citron”), and then said “bake in slow oven”. I consulted with a local professional baker about the recipe and she helped me decide how to go about making the cake. She also suggested making a half or even quarter recipe since it was a large recipe with expensive ingredients (pounds of nuts and candied fruit). So, I spent about a week making the recipe. First, I made orange-ginger marmalade for the “glass jelly”, then I candied orange and lemon peel. I did not know what candied citron was, though I saw it on-line for $15/half pound. Finally I mixed up half a recipe. I made it into small loaves to give to grandparents and my father-in-law as gifts. I kept one small loaf for myself. William and I tried it and fell in love. I made another half batch just for us. It had a great flavor, was not heavy or too sweet. The candied citrus was wonderful in the cake–fresh and bright and a little bitter. It was not a fruitcake, though. It was a fruity, nutty, citrus-y cake that was not as dense, sweet, moist, or rummy as a fruit cake. That may sound like a turn-off for fruitcake lovers, but they would be missing out.
I made the cake again this year–a full recipe. I gave some away as gifts, but kept at least half for us. We keep the cake cool and eat thin slices a few times a week–sometimes for breakfast or afternoon snack. I almost crave it at times.
It will become a holiday tradition for me. I plan to make it each year and enjoy the cake until it is gone, then wait until the next December to enjoy it again.