Heavenly Fruitcake Recipe Benefits Habitat for Humanity
A Fruitcake Unlike Most Any Other
“There are a lot of closet fruitcake likers. I like fruitcake and I’m proud of it,” said Pat Horvath, longtime volunteer fruitcake baker for Door County Habitat for Humanity. “Habitat’s fruitcake is nutty and buttery, and it’s just good.”
The annual pre-Christmas Fruitcake Bake Sale features one-pound fruitcakes made with the heavenly recipe passed down from the Catholic sisters of the former novitiate at Sevastopol School, St. Francis. Each fruitcake sells for $15 and all proceeds go to DCHFH.
“We’re planning on baking 700 fruitcakes this year,” said Judy Gregory, one of the head fruitcake bakers for 2015. “They’re all being made by hand at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in Sturgeon Bay during the three-day fruitcake baking party. It’s a fun thing to do. It’s not so much that people are buying fruitcake, it’s that each donation makes it possible for other people to have homes to live in. You’re making a contribution to people in your own community to have lodging.”
Baking 700 fruitcakes is a process that takes more than 20 volunteers and three days of preparation, mixing, baking and wrapping. There are specific jobs: raisin soakers (raisins will be soaked in some type of rum flavoring), batter scrapers, butter wrapper removers, egg breakers, batter smoothers and wrappers. To get all the fruits mixed into the thick batter, the batter has to be mixed by hand in 25-pound batches.
As a 21-year baker of fruitcake for DCHFH, Grace Rossman knows the tips and tricks for a smooth fruitcake bake.
“People meet in advance and put together the wet ingredients. There are dozens and dozens of eggs that have to be cracked and whipped,” Rossman said. “We use dark and gold raisins, candied fruit – the green and red stuff – to make it nice and sweet and walnuts. Ours is better than most because we don’t use citron, which the Sisters said is what makes most people not like fruitcake.”
In 2010, former DCHFH Executive Director Rick Nelson recorded the memories of Sister Mary Louise Shramer, the master baker behind the DCHFH fruitcake bake sale. As a founding member of the DCHFH board of directors in 1993, Shramer suggested baking fruitcakes as a fundraiser for the new organization. An excerpt from their conversation:
“As a member of the Sisters of St. Francis, she had previous experience baking fruitcakes as a fundraiser. When she suggested baking the fruitcakes as a fundraiser for DCHFH, the board was skeptical. Sister Mary Lou convinced the board to go ahead with the idea. Sister Mary Lou thinks the recipe that we use is well liked because it contains no citron (thick peel of the citrus fruit of the same name).”
The citron fruit holds significance in both Hindu and Jewish history, first esteemed by the ancient Hindus as a symbol of prosperity, then used in the rituals of the Jewish harvest festival of Sukkoth. A tree mentioned in a passage in the Torah, “And you shall take for yourselves on the first day, the fruit of goodly trees” was, at some point, interpreted as a citron tree. Regardless of its historical significance, the DCHFH bakers withhold it from their cakes.
“People tell us they hate fruitcake, then they eat ours and say, ‘Are you sure this is real fruitcake?’” Rossman said with a laugh. “We make ours with rum flavoring, but you can wrap them up in cheesecloth and soak them in rum before giving fruitcake out as gifts.”
After 21 years of baking fruitcakes, the most interesting part of the process for Rossman is the camaraderie among volunteers.
“After the stuff is mixed up, the batter goes out to volunteers seated at tables. They weigh the dough and put it in the pans, clean up any drips so there’s no gook on the outside of the pan. Those tables are the best place to be, they’re having a great time. Some volunteers come back each year just to sit at those tables. I haven’t gotten a chance to sit there, I guess I haven’t been promoted.” Rossman’s main job is lifting trays of 12-18 fruitcakes in and out of the industrial convection ovens in the NWTC kitchen.
Businesses and churches around Door and Kewaunee Counties have volunteered to sell DCHFH fruitcakes. The organization is always on the lookout for more venues to sell fruitcakes. To purchase a fruitcake, or find a retail location near you, contact the office of Door County Habitat for Humanity: 920-743-2869.