Food is one of my favorite ways to exchange cultures. This Kentucky girl likes fried chicken, barbeque (I could write a book about my love of barbeque), greens, cornbread, and pie. Since cross-cultural exchange is 2/3 of the goal of Peace Corps, I’m doing good. I was a moderately picky eater growing up, but thankfully my palate is considerably more adventurous. Jamaica has fantastic (if a touch starch-heavy) food, and I can’t wait to cook for my friends and family back home. My host mom is a well-known baker in the greater Brown’s Town area and I have actually added Star Cookies (Riley family recipe!) and cheesecake to her repertoire. But right now I want to talk about fruit cake.
Americans typically associate fruit cake with that nasty stuff people give at Christmas and never eat. This is a thousand times better. I believe it is a throwback to a British tradition. Fruit cake here is usually served at Christmas and at weddings. I had the good fortune of attending the wedding of my host mom’s sister a few weeks ago (incidentally, one of my top 5 favorite weddings ever, but that’s another blog post for another time). Ms. Brown, of course made the cake. She started making them WEEKS in advance. The fruit (dried currants, raisins, and prunes, but I’m certain this combination can be mixed up) is soaked in red wine (most people here use the cheap Red Label wine) for several weeks. When you’re ready to make the cake, you blend the wine and fruit in the blender and add it to the cake mix, which consists of margarine, browning sauce, sugar, flour, cinnamon, eggs and rum. That’s it. No leavening agents. This cake is DENSE. She makes such large cakes that she mixes them in a 5-gallon bucket.
The end result is a bit of a metaphor for Jamaica. It contains a lot of fruit and rum. The flavor is dark and complex. Occasionally bitter, but ultimately satisfying.
The Jamaican fruitcake can be decorated like any other cake. This one was at the wedding mentioned above. I’ve helped Ms. Brown make several. By the end of my service, I’ll have it down pat. I love Jamaican fruitcake so much that there is a good possibility it’ll be my wedding cake. Tough luck if you don’t like it.