Thursday, January 26, 2012

something new - and something old

Buddha hand (a type of citron) is in season currently. I've always wanted to play with these things. They look so amazing and they smell wonderful. After doing a bit of digging, I also learned that Americans used to have a tradition of curing them as a pickle! In fact, did you know that watermelon rind pickles used to be made with the rind of something called a "citron melon"? And that pickled citron melon rind was called "American citron"?

Based on the recipes I could find for preserved citron (mostly from the 1800s), it seemed like I could just use the old watermelon rind pickle process and cure up some buddha hand. So! I salt cured it overnight...
then I brined it, but made some changes to the watermelon's vinegar pickle. This time, I used a mixture of freshly-squeezed lemon juice and distilled white vinegar, and for spices I used a bit of powdered ginger, along with cardamon pods, a few whole cloves, coriander and black mustard seed, and pink and black peppercorns - plus a touch of tumeric for that pretty yellow colour.
and voila! It actually looks a good deal like the watermelon rind pickles, doesn't it? Only these have a powerful lemony flavour.

What to do with preserved buddha hand? In about 10 months, I think I might commit to making my first real fruitcakes, with this citron, dried white turkish figs and apricots in them, wrapped in cheesecloth and fed with brandy and aged for a month before giving at the holidays.

I know, I know. Fruitcake has such a maligned place in American culture. We always loved it in our family - getting a fruitcake from my grandfather (or failing that, from one of the Oregon monasteries) was a highlight of the holiday. But then again, I grew up with the real stuff - no weird green artificial "citron" here, our fruitcakes were stuffed with real, recognizable fruits. Still, even with friends who (I think?) trust my baking chops, I don't think I'll be able to justify making more than just a few of these fruitcakes. I don't want to spend a month pouring brandy into something that might be thrown out before it is even tasted, you know?

What's your feeling on fruitcake? I know, we're kind of past the holidays now - but any other fruitcake lovers out there? Ever had an aged one? What did you think?


Anonymous said...

My grandparents were from Sweden and both grandmothers (who could really bake)were good friends and got into making fruitcake. I seem to remember that they made them sometime in early November and let them sit until Christmas Day. They never used anything besides real fruit and often ground their own flours. They kept them well 'watered' with brandy while they aged. I was just a little kid so I don't really remember all of the process, but I know that today I would kill for a taste of one of those fruitcakes! I also know that NOBODY ever turned one of them down.

fleur_delicious said...

aw - anonymous, who are you? If I follow through on this (and I only say if because it's 10 months out, but I have every intention of doing so) - and if you'd like - I would be happy to make and mail you a fruitcake next winter, too! =) In fact, if someone in your family has a fruitcake recipe that you'd like to share, I would love to read it!

Tuolumne said...

Sorry for posting anonymously. I was in a hurry and that was easiest. My name is Axe Mortensen.
The recipe for that frutcake left with my grandmothers, I'm afraid. Like a lot of cooks of their vintage, they never wrote much down, just worked 'out of their head.' All of that part of the family is now long gone. My wife got the cookbooks, but there were a lot of things they cooked that just weren't listed. There are a lot of hand-written notes in the books, however. Mostly annotations, additions, and changes to the printed recipes.
If there is something you'd particularly like to try, I will go through the books to see if we have the formula. I know you celebrate Midsommer (as do we). Can you read Swedish? If not, I'll translate the recipies for you. Google doesn't work well with them.

fleur_delicious said...

Axe - no trouble at all, I was just curious. Are you in Seattle, too?

If you can find a fruitcake recipe, I would love to try it! Unfortunately, I cannot read Swedish - so I would be very grateful to you if you could translate =). If you find any recipes for pepparkakor, I am always on the lookout for these! (they're a favourite; the spicier, the better)

I'm so glad you commented; I would love to continue to experiment with traditional recipes and share with you and your wife!

fleur_delicious said...

(ps. do you remember the dominant flavours from your grandmothers' fruitcakes? What type of fruits did they use? Do you remember if any certain spices predominated? I was researching British sugarplums this holiday season and found that the classic recipes were largely made of apricots, dates, figs, and prunes - lots of middle eastern fruits, with cumin and fennel in the spice mix. It seems like the older - by which I mean, 16th and 17th century - fruitcake recipes used a similar mix of fruits, so I am curious if your grandmothers were following this model? And what about the spices? I have found a higher use of cardamon and juniper in scandinavian cooking that I really like, but I haven't yet thought about how this could feasibly translate to fruitcake - or even if it should.)

Tuolumne said...

I'm down in California, in Modesto, where I grew up and they used fruit that grew here that they had dried themselves in the summer. I remember cherries, apricots,dried peaches (yes, in the fruitcake), prunes, dates, orange and lemon zest, and all sorts of things. They also used almonds and walnuts. I know that they used both fennel and cumin, and also a little ginger, but you didn't really taste it. They probably had cardamon in there too -- they used it in nearly everything else. To my mind, the predominant flavor of the whole thing was of the fruit -- not any one of them but of a wonderful mix. My memory is a little short on the exactitudes -- it's been over 65 years and I really didn't pay too much attention to what they were doing. The fruit varied a little from year to year, depending on what they had available the previous summer.
They used several different flours, but I can't tell you what they were. The brandy was some stuff that a relitave in Sweden would send them each year -- they didn't like E&J -- and they would use a LOT of it. I always knew when they had been 'watering' (that's what they called it) because the house smelled like a distillery. Of course, they did about 100 fruitcakes a year, so they needed a lot of brandy. I can find out what it was, if it matters to you.

I think there are several recipies for pepparkakor in there. I'll dig them up and translate them for you. I can send the to you on Flickrmail, if you still use that account.

I have some cousins that may know about the fruitcake, but they never bake them -- it was a big job I know, particularly by today's standards. I'll ask and let you know what they say.

On Christmas Day there was always plenty of fruitcake to go with dinner (and a whole lot of everything else, too). About noon, my two grandmothers would go out dressed in their Swedish finery (and they had some) and give out those fruitcakes to their friends. Believe me, those fruitcakes didn't sit around long, wherever they went.

Carrie said...

Fruitcake is not a tradition in our family, but Iʻve baked a few because my grandmother likes them. Iʻve used recipes from King Arthur Flour. Those werenʻt aged the traditional way, but Iʻd like to try making it that way sometime. :)