Fruitcake for Christmas

Recently, I posted about my secret fondness for fruitcake, and my intention to make one this year. Well, I did it, and it was a success! I went through several cookbooks, searched on-line for a recipe, and finally selected Alton Brown’s Free Range Fruitcake (find it HERE: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/free-range-fruitcake-recipe/index.html). I did not follow it exactly (some differences in the fruit used, the liquid used to soak the fruit, and the nuts) but the method worked extremely well, and the fruitcake is delicious! Moist, dense, spicy, packed with fruit and nuts. My husband, who ducks and runs when fruitcake is mentioned, tasted it and liked it. (He ate the whole slice!) Here it is:

Fruitcake! 001

I’m so glad I made this cake, and plan to make it again. Not only is it delicious, but it’s part of a tradition going back hundreds of years. From Eliza Smith’s “Plumb Cake” in The Compleat Housewife and Hannah Glasses “Rich Cake” in The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy to fruitcake of today, the ingredients and methods are strikingly similar. Baking from scratch is a special pleasure, one I had almost forgotten as I do it so seldom. Friends and family, who knows what may be in that Christmas gift next year? Just taste it before you make that face – I promise you’ll be pleasantly surprised!

A confession as the festive season approaches…

I was at the grocery store today, and found myself picking up containers of raisins and currents. I looked for dried cherries, but will have to look elsewhere for those, and a few other items. With Thanksgiving and Christmas fast approaching, I have found my mind drifting toward … fruitcake.

Dare I confess? I really like fruitcake. Unfortunately, I rarely get to indulge because few people of my acquaintance will have a fruitcake anywhere in sight. If the subject comes up, it is met with either groans, laughter or (worst of all) the eyebrow lifted in disdain. Somehow, though, there is something about a cake full of dried fruits, nuts and spices that I really like (especially if a little good rum or brandy is introduced along the way).

Fruitcake of one kind or another has been around since the Romans. In my Georgian-era cook books, I’ve found a couple of recipes for different cakes with currants. However, my Fanny Farmer edition of 1896, and my great-grandmother’s 1894 copy of THE FAVORITE COOK BOOK have lots of recipes for fruitcakes of all descriptions. Apparently fruitcake was a specialty treat in the Georgian era and really came into its own in the Victorian era. They were a true special occasion cake, and were often used for wedding cakes. In fact, Fiona Cairns made a huge, tiered fruitcake for Prince William and Catherine Middleton’s wedding cake (see it here http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1381944/Royal-Wedding-cake-Kate-Middleton-requested-8-tiers-decorated-900-flowers.html). Every culture seems to have some version of a fruitcake or fruit bread. There is no clear indicator of when or why it became limited to a primarily Christmas dish, but that seems to be the tradition today.

When I was a child, I can remember fruitcake being a holiday staple, always around but more of a grown-up treat (thanks to the alcohol addition!). Unfortunately, by the time I was old enough to appreciate it, it had become a mass-produced block and was considered unnecessary at best.

For the last several years, I have considered digging out a recipe and making one. Some of the recipes are quite complex and time-consuming. A few items like the candied citron and the neon-green candied cherries will definitely not be included. However, this may just be the year I go for it. I’ve already made a start on getting the ingredients together. Who knows, a home-made-from-scratch fruitcake might find a welcome this year!

(Image from Wikimedia Commons.)

Tasty Summer Blog Hop-Lucinda Brant, Guest Post

Welcome to the Tasty Summer Reads Blog Hop!

It is my great pleasure to introduce the lovely and talented author Lucinda Brant, who will be posting her Tasty Summer Reads blog as my guest today. Lucinda writes Georgian historical romances with wit and adventure, and crimances (crime with lashings of romance). Her latest release SALT REDUX is the sequel to the internationally best selling SALT BRIDE, and is a 2013 Readers’ Favorite Book Awards Finalist. You can read more about Lucinda on her website www.lucindabrant.com And now for Lucinda…

Welcome to the Tasty Summer Reads Blog Hop!
New release:
SALT REDUX: Sequel to SALT BRIDE
Jane and Salt—four years of Happily Ever After
Sir Antony Templestowe—four years of Exile
Lady Caroline—four years of Heartache
Diana St. John—four years plotting Revenge

The time has come…
How does a brother cope with life knowing his sister is a murderess? How can a nobleman have the life he has always wanted when a lurking evil consumes his thoughts and haunts his dreams? What will it take for good to triumph over evil?
For readers who enjoyed Salt Bride, the story continues…
2013 Readers’ Favorite Book Awards Finalist
http://lucindabrant.com/salt-redux.php

Salt-Redux-Cover-500x750

Now for the Random Tasty Questions:
1) When writing are you a snacker? If so sweet or salty?
I drink coffee; lots of it! Making a cup of coffee gets me up out from in front of the computer screen. I have a Nespresso machine. I take my coffee black with one teaspoon of raw sugar. I usually just drink the coffee but occasionally I will indulge in a snack, usually a piece of the latest cake I’ve made – some faves are Zucchini and Carrot cake, Pear, Raspberry and Pistachio bread, Orange, Almond and Coconut cake.

2) Are you an outliner or someone who writes by the seat of their pants?
I use an A5 20 ring binder full of notes for each WIP. I get dressed for work each day in my writing PJs. I buy my “writing” PJs from www.peteralexander.com.au which have funky designs for summer and winter. Ah, the life of the full time writer.

3) When cooking, do you follow a recipe or do you wing it?
I’ve been cooking now for a long time, so don’t follow recipes but my taste buds! But I am new to making cakes. My daughter, who has moved out of home, was the cupcake and sweets maker. So I will follow a recipe when making a cake or dessert.

4) What is next for you after this book?
I’m currently writing book 4 in my Roxton series, DAIR DEVIL, which begins on the night before book 3 ends. It’s about a minor character in book 3 Alisdair (Dair) Fitzstuart, heir to the earl of Strathsay, and Aurora (Rory) Talbot, granddaughter of England’s spymaster general. It should hit the cyber shelves before Christmas.

5) Last question…on a level of one being slightly naughty and ten being whoo hoo steamy, how would you rate your book?
My books have elements of naughty, but if you mean the mechanics of sex, then no. But there is enough sexual tension to get all hot and bothered, that’s for sure!

And now for the really tasty part: the recipe!

Brussels Sprouts, Cranberry and Almond Warm Summer Salad
(sorry, but I don’t use precise measurements – but this is easy to do!)

About 20 Brussels sprouts topped and chopped in half
a quarter of cabbage (any kind) chopped
a big handful of dried ready to eat cranberries
a big handful of slivered almonds
Rice Bran oil to mix

Steam Brussels sprouts in microwave until tender but firm (but not mushy)
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and toss to coat with oil
Place in an ovenproof dish and heat in a moderate oven until Brussels sprouts have caramelized

Serve as an accompaniment to lamb, chicken or beef.

I have tagged author Prue Batten to carry on the hop. Prue Batten writes Historical Fiction and Fantasy. Her fantasy novel A Thousand Glass Flowers received a silver medallion in the 2012 Readers’ Favorite Book Awards. Her latest book is the second in her Gisborne saga Gisborne: Book of Knights.

I’ll now have you hop on over to Prue Batten’s blog! http://pruebatten.wordpress.com/

Other Tasty Summer Reads Blog Hop participants are:
Christy English http://www.christyenglish.com/2013/07/17/tasty-summer-reads-blog-hop/

Anna Belfrage http://www.juditharnoppnovelist.blogspot.com/ or http://www.juditharnopp.com/

Diana Russo Morin http://www.donnarussomorin.com/index.html

Nancy Goodman http://rakesroguesandromance.com/2013/07/11/welcome-to-the-tasty-summer-reads-blog-hop/

Lauren Gilbert http://laurengilbertheyerwood.wordpress.com/2013/07/19/tasty-summer-reads-blog-hop

Tasty Summer Reads Blog Hop

Welcome to the Tasty Summer Reads Blog Hop!

First, I’d like to thank the lovely Christy English for inviting me to participate.

Here’s how the hop works! Each author invites up to five other authors to answer five questions about their current summer release or WIP and a tasty recipe that ties into it! It gives readers the opportunity to add these awesome treats (and reads) to your to do list 🙂 I have invited the delightful Anna Belfrage and the wonderful Lucinda Brant to join in the hop. Anna will be getting her post and recipe up, so just click on her link below to see what she’s got cooking! Lucinda’s treat will appear here as she will be a guest poster on this blog, so watch this space!
Well, I guess I’ll start us off!

In 2011, my first book HEYERWOOD: A Novel was published. At present, I am completing A RATIONAL ATTACHMENT (working title-I’ve a couple of others in mind as well!), which I expect to be released later this year. Like the first, A RATIONAL ATTACHMENT is a historical novel, set in the late Regency period. My heroine, Anne, is a young woman who falls somewhere between trade and Society, and has to find her way to her own happiness.

Now for the Random Tasty Questions:
1) When writing are you a snacker? Not really. I tend to save my snacking for afterwards. If so sweet or salty? Both! I love chips and dip, nuts, pretzels, and vegetables with bleu cheese dressing. However, I also have a serious fondness for ice cream!

2) Are you an outliner or someone who writes by the seat of their pants? I do some outlining, but mostly I’m a pantser.

And are they real pants or jammies? That depends… If I’m working after I get home from my day job, I’ve got real pants on. However, there are those non-work days, when I may get up and go straight off to write in my jammies. (There have also been the odd middle-of-the-night forays!)

3) When cooking, do you follow a recipe or do you wing it? I used to be religious about making a recipe as written first. Now, I read it and “take it under advisement.” I substitute herbs or other ingredients based on personal taste.

4) What is next for you after this book? My current WIP should be out sometime this year. A RATIONAL ATTACHMENT (working title) is my second novel. When this one is completed, several readers have requested a sequel to HEYERWOOD: A Novel, for which I have a broad outline and some notes already started. I also want to mention that the book CASTLES, CUSTOMS AND KINGS True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors will be out on 9/23/13. This is an anthology of articles posted by some great writers on the English Historical Fiction Authors blog, to which I have the honor to be a contributor.

5) Last question…on a level of one being slightly naughty and ten being whoo hoo steamy, how would you rate your book? HEYERWOOD: A Novel would actually rate a 0-no naughtiness at all. A RATIONAL ATTACHMENT? Well, that’s still in process!

And now for the really tasty part:
Here’s the recipe! (Really two for one…) Parsnips, a root vegetable that resembles a white carrot with a spicy, sweet taste, is popular in England. This is a variation of a parsnip recipe; I have found many people are not that familiar with parsnips. They work well with carrots, which makes it a friendly combination.

Carrots & Parsnips
3 lbs (48 oz) carrots & parsnips, scraped & cut into pieces (approximately the same size)-this would be about 6 large parsnips & 6 large carrots.
Chicken stock or broth to cover, about 3 cups (24 fluid oz)*
1 or 2 large cloves of garlic, finely minced (depending on your liking for garlic)
1 large shallot or ½ small onion , chopped
Salt & pepper to taste.

Put all in saucepan & simmer until tender but still with some body.
These are good as a side dish as is. Be sure to save the broth for soup or gravy.
*This could be vegetable stock or water, depending on personal preference.

Carrots & Parsnips in Rosemary Cream
Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Take above carrots & parsnips out of broth and place in 13” x 9” baking dish. Pour over about 1½ cups of heavy cream (about 1 inch deep, not quite covering the vegetables). Sprinkle about 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh rosemary over the top (again to your taste-could be more or less). Sprinkle about ¼ – 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese (I prefer the 6 Italian cheeses that come already shredded together) over the top. Sprinkle on about ¼ cup to ½ cup fresh bread crumbs over the top, and drizzle with 1 – 2 Tablespoons of melted butter. Bake approximately 20 minutes until bubbly, thickened & crumbs are golden.
Serves about 6. (Can be increased for more very easily.)
Be sure to save the broth for soup or gravy.

Note that, if you love parsnips, this is fantastic without the carrots-just increase the parsnips. If you’re not fond of parsnips, leave them out and go the other way… A wonderful side dish with chicken or pork; terrific at Thanksgiving!

LINKS TO OTHER TASTY SUMMER BLOG HOPPERS!

Christy English http://www.christyenglish.com/2013/07/17/tasty-summer-reads-blog-hop/
Anna Belfrage http://www.annabelfrage.com/Home/
Diana Russo Morin http://www.donnarussomorin.com/index.html
Nancy Goodman http://rakesroguesandromance.com/2013/07/11/welcome-to-the-tasty-summer-reads-blog-hop/

HEYERWOOD: A Novel available at Amazon.com and other fine book sites!
HEYERWOOD: A Novel available at Amazon.com and other fine book sites!
Castles, Customs, and Kings-coming 9/23/13!
Castles, Customs, and Kings-coming 9/23/13!

Sheer Delight…

Recently, I read a blog post about a book titled, Mrs Hurst Dancing & Other Scenes from Regency Life 1812-1823. I had never heard of this book, so I ordered it. I am so glad I did!

My copy of Mrs Hurst Dancing & Other Scenes from Regency Life 1812-1823
My copy of Mrs Hurst Dancing & Other Scenes from Regency Life 1812-1823

This is a collection of watercolor paintings by a young woman named Diana Sperling, with text by Gordon Mingay and a foreward by Elizabeth Longford. Diana was clearly one of those accomplished young ladies one reads about in Jane Austen, and Regency novels in general. (It’s important to note that the Mrs. Hurst of the title is a real Mrs. Hurst, not Caroline Bingley’s sister in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice!)

These paintings have so much humor and life. It has given me an entirely new perspective on this facet of young women’s education. Somehow, I never thought of the use of drawing and painting pictures as a way to record family life. Diana’s pictures include captions (most by her), and give a wonderful view of her life in a country home. In a way, sitting down with this book is not unlike sitting down with a friend’s scrapbook or photo album today. So often, my view of the late Georgian/Regency period is shaped by portraits of the rich and famous (or infamous!), or prints lampooning those same people. This is a lovely, human look at the life of a real family in a comfortable country home. The text is most enjoyable, filling in the details so we know who is portrayed and what’s going on.

It turns out that there have been a number of blog posts about this book in the last few years. (How did I miss them??) I can’t remember whose blog I read that steered me to this book, but I wish I could thank that author. This is not only a delightful, entertaining read, but an excellent reference as well. I highly recommend this book!

Details: ISBN 0575030356 London: Victory Gollancz Ltd., 1981. I found it on Amazon.com.

Summer Banquet Blog Hop

summer-banquet-hop-copy  Picture

A SUMMER BANQUET: A Regency Picnic

During the summer months, we tend to go for lighter fare, and (whenever possible) to eat outdoors. The picnic was just as popular in England during the Georgian and Regency periods, as illustrated by the picnic at Box HIll in Jane Austen’s EMMA. Using Eliza Smith’s The Compleat HOUSEWIFE cookbook, we can pull together a delightful summer banquet for outdoors. The bills of fare for May, june, July and August provide plenty of ideas.

For the first course, along with a “Grand Sallad”, some “Roasted Losbsters”, “Fruit of all Sorts,” “Gooseberry Tarts”, and “Fish in Jelly” sounds delicious. The second course should include some cold ham and chicken, a dish of “Fish in jelly” and a “Pigeon Pie”. For both courses pickled asparagus and pickled slice cucumbers make tasty garnishes. Removes could include a “Potatoe Pie”, some strawberries or raspberries, and “Morello Cherry Tarts.”

To make a “Pigeon Pie”, you start with a two-crust pastry. After that, Mrs. Smith says “Truss and season your pigeons with savory spice, lard them with bacon, stuff them with forc’d mean, and lay them in the pye with the ingredients for savory pyes, with butter, and close the pie.” (Savory spices include salt and pepper, nutmeg, and mace. Herbs such as thyme, marjoram, parsley, or savory could also be added, with a shallot or onion.) When the pie is done, pour a Lear into the pie. A Lear is a sauce or gravy. Mrs. Smith instructs “Take claret, gravy, oyster-liquor, two or three anchovies, a faggot of sweet-herbs and an onion; boil it up and thicken it with brown butter, then pour it into your savory pyes when called for.” Savory pies such as pigeon pie can be eaten hot or room temperature or cold.

SUMMER BANQUET BLOG HOP GIVEAWAY

Summer is the perfect time to sit outside with a book. I am giving away a signed paperback copy of my book HEYERWOOD: A Novel to a winner in the U.S. or Canada. Just leave a comment for a chance to win (be sure to leave a contact e-mail)! This drawing will close at midnight on Friday, June 7, 2013, and a winner will be announced as quickly as possible. Good luck!

This blog hop will appear from June 3-June 7, 2013. Please visit all of the participating authors for more summer fun!

Hop Participants:

1.

  • Random Bits of Fascination (Maria Grace)
  • 2.

  • Pillings Writing Corner (David Pilling)
  • 3.

  • Anna Belfrage
  • 4.

  • Debra Brown
  • 5.

  • Lauren Gilbert
  • 6.

  • Gillian Bagwell
  • 7.

  • Julie K. Rose
  • 8.

  • Donna Russo Morin
  • 9.

  • Regina Jeffers
  • 10.

  • Shauna Roberts
  • 11.

  • Tinney S. Heath
  • 12.

  • Grace Elliot
  • 13.

  • Diane Scott Lewis
  • 14.

  • Ginger Myrick
  • 15.

  • Helen Hollick
  • 16.

  • Heather Domin
  • 17.

  • Margaret Skea
  • 18.

  • Yves Fey
  • 19.

  • JL Oakley
  • 20.

  • Shannon Winslow
  • 21.

  • Evangeline Holland
  • 22.

  • Cora Lee
  • 23.

  • Laura Purcell
  • 24.

  • P. O. Dixon
  • 25.

  • E.M. Powell
  • 25.

  • Sharon Lathan
  • 26.

  • Sally Smith O’Rourke
  • 27.

  • Allison Bruning
  • 28.

  • Violet Bedford
  • 29.

  • Sue Millard
  • 30.

  • Kim Rendfeld
  • The Beauty of Old Books

    The Cover of Marmion by Sir Walter Scott
    The Cover of Marmion by Sir Walter Scott

    I love old books. The paper is thicker and has a certain feel to it. They have a scent and a weight in the hands, a feeling of substance. The covers may be leather or cloth, and they impart a dignity to the volume. Somehow old books just seem to have a significance that the newer volumes, however beautiful the cover or dust jacket may be, just don’t match.

    The picture above is the cover of a copy of Marmion by Sir Walter Scott. It is difficult to say for sure, but I think it must have been originally white, with gilding in the tooled designs surrounding the center illustration of the young woman in the garden. There is no page giving printing or publishing information. It is a small book, of a size to slip easily into a small purse (or even a reticule) or pocket. It was obviously a dainty item, I think intended to be a gift for a special young lady.

    It did not surface until after she had passed away, so I could not ask my grandmother how she came by it. There may be a reason why the page with publication data is missing-might there have been an inscription that was too sensitive to keep? Possibly a romantic gift from someone, kept after the romance had ended? It was hidden away so I suspect it was a keepsake from long ago. I can picture her taking it out occasionally, turning it over in her hands, reading a passage here and there. I hope it brought a smile. I treasure this little book because, as battered and worn as it is, it still has a faded loveliness, and because it was obviously important to my grandmother. It’s inspiring to think what might have been…

    Home Entertainment

    Today, when we think of home entertainment, we usually watch something on television, maybe pop in a DVD or listen to music. Some people play video games; others may still do the old-fashioned thing and play games-board games, cards, etc. Today I received in the mail a reminder of an earlier way to have fun: home theatricals.

    The Winning Widow-A Parlor Comedy 1916
    The Winning Widow-A Parlor Comedy 1916

    This is my grandmother’s copy of a 2-act play, designed for home performance. Published by T. S. Denison & Company of Chicago, the fly leaf contained a partial list of available plays (a large catalogue was available for free). Ranging from two to four acts, the list includes the number of male and female parts, and an approximate length. The Winning Widow was expected to take about two hours to perform. The booklet includes the story of the play, a synopsis for one’s program, costume information, and a list of props-the costumes and props were things likely to be found at home. There is even a scene plot for the stage.

    Home theatrics have a long history. Jane Austen wrote and performed in plays at home with her family. An important element to the plot of MANSFIELD PARK is the activity surrounding an intended performance of Lovers’ Vows proposed by Tom Bertram. It’s very interesting to see a connection to that tradition in my own family!

    Hearts Through History Hop

    From February 10-16, 2013, I am participating in the Hearts Through History Blog Hop.  There are 24 blogs involved, each with a special giveaway in honor of Valentine’s Day!   (A list is at the end of this post.)  Our blogs will feature our favorite romantic anecdotes.

    One of the most romantic real-life love stories is that of poets Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, a love story that began through poetry and grew in their letters.  During their correspondence after their meeting, before Elizabeth consented to their elopement and marriage, Robert wrote, “…Will it help me to say that once in this Aladdin-cavern I knew I ought to stop for no heaps of jewel-fruit on the trees from the very beginning, but go on to the lamp, the prize, the last and best of all?….”  [Letter dated September 16, 1845]  They finally married secretly on September 12, 1846 at St. Marleybone Church, almost a year to the day.  I am not, in general a fan of poetry, but their correspondence and poems, when read together, are simply exquisite.  To be the prize…   (Sigh!)

    My favorite fictional romantic anecdote comes from Jane Austen’s Persuasion.  The letter written by Captain Wentworth to Anne Elliot is one of the most beautiful love letters.  “…You pierce my soul.  I am half agony, half hope.  Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever.  I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own, than when you almost broke it eight years and a half ago….”   The ultimate second-chance-at love story.  Who could possibly resist?

    What is your favorite romantic quotation or anecdote? 

    It is easy to enter the giveaway; just leave a comment for a chance to win!  The giveaway will close on February 16,  and the winner will be drawn by February 20, 2013.  I will post the name of my winner on this blog.  (Please leave contact information if you want to receive an e-mail!)   The prize will be a signed hardback copy of HEYERWOOD: A Novel, with some special surprise treats to enjoy with it.   This giveaway is open to the US, Canada, UK and Europe. 

    Cover for HEYERWOOD a novel

    Be sure to enter on each blog for a chance to win the prizes.   Visit each of the blogs featured, so that you won’t miss out!  The list of participants follows: