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December 17, 1999

Fruitcake on the Brain

Compare to yesterday, today was a very quiet day. I got some work done, and even managed a work out with Bob the final details of one of the features. He actually got most of the code in on his side, but I was in the middle of something I was adding and didn't want to mix the two pieces of code and functionality. He was able to switch his stuff off for the moment, and I should be able to get at it during the beginning of next week.

On Wednesday, Alton Brown did a show on fruitcake.

On the most part, I'm part of the mass of humanity that believe that fruitcake should be best used as a door stop. The joke that Alton frequently used on the show about how at the end of the world there are only rats and cockroaches and fruitcakes left and then the rats and cockroaches all died of starvation seems somewhat appropriate to my concept of fruitcake. There are two exceptions. The first exception happened many years ago at Mary Mark's wedding, where the groom's cake was an old-fashioned, cured fruitcake made with a chocolate base. It was an absolutely delicious cake, dense and flavorful and textured mostly with the nuts and fruits that made up the body of the cake.

The second exception happened when Jon Singer brought in a plastic bag a golden hunk of something that he called fruitcake. It was vivid with rum; had beautiful mouthfuls of golden, dried fruits, likely pineapple, papaya, and mango; was laced with sparkling chunks of crystallized ginger; and, since he has a wheat allergy was made from a flour he'd concocted of various nuts and other grains. I thought the texture was entirely from his odd flour, so never expected that from any other type of fruitcake.

I have to admit, with my perception of fruitcake, I never really thought I would make any. I hate the funny green, rubbery fruit thingys that can be found in common fruitcake, and I'd never smelled of fruitcake that was anything like Singer's.

Then saw Alton Brown do fruitcake. Not only did he completely avoid fruits that I could not recognize, but he added a dimension of attention to detail that I could actually understand and be fascinated by, only choosing the best pecans, the freshest spices, and then adding a series of techniques that made me think that it was possible to make something like what Singer had made. Theoretically, the results could be similar.

After work, John and I went to Whole Foods, in part to find our dinner and, in part, to enable my own experimentation for the weekend. I had a ball in the bulk foods area, getting about half a dozen different dried fruits in various quantities. There all really good fruits, the ones that I actually use in my own oatmeal. Blueberries, apricots, golden raisins, currents, sour cherries (none of those Marachino cherries), and cranberries were all neatly bundled up.

For dinner, we bought two-thirds of a pound of good yellowfin tuna. When we got home, I started some sushi rice and then prepared broccoli that I'd bought earlier in the week because it looked good. When the broccoli was mostly finished I put a pan on high heat. The tuna steak I then lightly seasoned on each side, rubbed with canola oil, and when the pan was smoking hot I slapped the steak onto the hot metal for just a minute. The second side is done much the first, and then I put the whole thing onto a cutting board to rest for a moment. I then put vinegar and rice wine into the sushi rice, and then served big, hot blobs of the stuff onto each plate. I then sliced the steak against the grain, and the centers of each slice were the gorgeous ruby-red of sushi grade tuna. John made up some wasabi, early on, and we had that as seasoning for the tuna and rice. It was an excellent dinner, especially since I have been missing both sushi and good fish.

After dinner, I put all the dried fruit into one of the square plastic containers I bought from the cooking supply shop. I then peeled the zest off of one orange and one lemon, using a regular vegetable peeler. I had seen the technique in some of the cooking shows on Food Network, but had never used it before. It worked like a charm, and soon I had a pile of fragrant zest on my cutting board. I then cut it very fine, and added it to the pile of dried fruit. One entire cup of Bacardi rum, the gold rum, was then added to the container. I mixed it all together, savoring the aromas raising from the container, covered it, and put it on a shelf over the refrigerator for tomorrow.

One of the things I learned from the show was that a great deal of fruitcake's taste comes from a slow, long period of letting the tastes mingle in various ways. The first of these was the masceration of the dried fruit, in the second was a long, slow curing of the cake in small amounts of brandy. Singer couldn't use brandy because of an allergy to yeasts, and since brandy is a derivative of wine, he couldn't use it. That explained why the most prevalent liquor content of his fruitcake was rum, which contains no yeast. More to learn and I'll probably do it tomorrow.

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