Fruitcake – a holiday icon

December 2022

By Jean Kerr

The only thing better than dessert? Dessert made with rum.

If ever there were a comestible designed for life on the high seas, it is fruitcake. Think about it. It has rum galore, fruits, sugar and possibly nuts. It serves a large crew and keeps just about forever without refrigeration. Certainly, it was a regular Christmas tradition aboard the vessels of the Royal Navy.

Yes, it’s the holiday icon we love to hate. But as the daughter of a Brit with a sweet tooth, I discovered the beauty of a lovingly prepared dark, rum-soaked traditional fruitcake. I can understand the antipathy if all one has sampled is something in a tin that a “friend” has sent you from a mail-order catalog. Heck, my mum even liked those though I think she added “additional” Christmas spirits so that it would keep longer. But, having made one from scratch, I now understand her attachment to this age-old holiday tradition.

The process of making and lovingly tending a fruitcake – read regularly soaking it in hooch over a period of time­ – will certainly get you in the holiday spirit (or at least into the holiday spirits).

The recipe below is adapted from the classic “Mrs. Beeton’s Household Management,” a 1000-plus page tome first published in 1861, that many 19th century British housewives regarded as their bible, as it provided a wealth of culinary instruction as well as advice on everything domestic.

The recipe below comes to us via our friends at The Cook’s Cook, an excellent online community for cooks, recipe testers, food writers and other motley members of our foodie crew. Our thanks also to Chef Edward Bottone. Visit for a free membership.

Jean Kerr is the author of four cookbooks, including, “Mystic Seafood” and “Maine Windjammer Cooking.” She is the former editor of Northeast Flavor Magazine and a regular contributor to Cruising World.


Traditional Dark Fruitcake

I like to use molasses instead of traditional English treacle or golden syrup to further define the fruitcake’s New England pedigree. Although many supermarkets carry the glazed fruit and candied peel this time of year, you can always order online.

Soak your dried fruits in the best dark rum you can find. While brandy and/or whisky may have been used in a traditional English version, New England and Caribbean sailors certainly would have used rum. By the 15th of December, bake your cake. Cool it, soak it, wrap it well in cheesecloth and store it in a tin in a cool place. Douse it several times and once more before serving.


3 ½ cups flour

1 cup light brown sugar

2 tbsp powdered ginger

1 bottle of your favorite dark rum

1/2 lb dark or light raisins, soaked in dark rum

1 cup candied peel, soaked in dark rum

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

1 cup glacéed red and green cherries, cut in half, soaked in dark rum

2 eggs

1 cup butter, softened, plus some for the pan

2/3 cup heavy cream

2/3 cup molasses

1 tsp baking soda

1 tbsp cider vinegar


Butter and lightly flour a ring, Bundt, or 9” X 5” loaf pan. Tap out excess flour.

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.

Mix well the flour, sugar, ginger, drained raisins and drained candied peel and cherries (save the rum for dousing the cake with).

In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs until pale and fluffy (at least five minutes). Mix in the butter, cream and molasses and beat the mixture for a few more minutes.

Dissolve the soda in the vinegar and add it to the dough until all are well incorporated with the others.

Put the cake batter into a buttered mold or tin, place it in a 325ºF oven, and bake it from 1-3/4 to 2-1/4 hours until the tester comes out clean.

Cool upside down on a wire rack. While still upside down, poke holes in the cake with a skewer and douse liberally with dark rum. When cooled, completely unmold, and pour rum over. Wrap well in cheesecloth and store in a tin in a cool place. In a few days, douse again, several times, until you are ready to serve.

Slice into small wedges and serve with whipped cream or ice cream.