Terry Shames writes the award-winning Samuel Craddock series. The fifth in the series, The Necessary Murder of Nonie Blake won the 2017 RT Reviews Critics Award for Best Contemporary Mystery. Learn more about Terry and her books at her website and blog, and be sure to check out the fabulous giveaway contest on Terry's Facebook author page.
Loretta Singletary is an ongoing character in my Samuel Craddock series. She is a consummate baker who is always bringing baked goods to her friends.
In my next book, A Reckoning in the Back Country, she goes away to visit relatives for Thanksgiving. This is a scene after her return:
“I brought something for you from my sister-in-law.” Loretta pulls out a cloth-wrapped bundle and unwraps it. It’s a dark, heavy fruitcake cake full of nuts, the only kind worth eating, as far as I’m concerned. “Isn’t that a beauty? My sister-in-law makes a good fruitcake. Better than any I ever tried to make.”
“I’m sure that’s not true.”
She snorts. “It is. And she won’t tell me the secret ingredient.”
I reach out to pinch off a piece and she slaps my hand away. “It will be ready to eat at Christmas. You’re supposed to pour brandy over it once a week until then.”
“How much brandy?”
She cocks her head at me. “What do you mean ‘how much’?” Until it doesn’t absorb anymore.” At the look on my face she says, “Never mind, I’ll keep it at my house and do it myself and then I’ll bring it to you. But you have to pay for the brandy.”
“I’ll pay for enough for my cake and yours, too.”
From A Reckoning in the Back Country, A Samuel Craddock mystery coming January 9, 2018
What kind of fruitcake has Loretta brought back home with her? The kind my grandmother used to make! Dark and evil-looking, full of nuts and candied fruit. I loved it and I still love it (maybe one of two people in the entire world who like fruitcake). When I hear those mean jokes about fruitcake every year, I turn a deaf ear.
The surprise here, for those who know Loretta, is that she laces it with brandy. She’s not much of a drinker. But fruitcake demands brandy. When I was a child, my grandmother kept the fruitcakes she made in a pantry. It was a great treat to me as a child to watch her pull out the cakes, unwrap them, and pour brandy over them. Such a mysterious process.
It puzzled me years ago when I first went looking for a good fruitcake recipe and couldn’t find one that included that mysterious last step. So I improvised.
Here’s a recipe I’ve used. Its original author (who claimed it was the best ever) has faded into oblivion, but I’ve made enough changes in it to call it my own:
Unimaginably Great Fruit Cake (makes 2 cakes 12” x 4” x 3”)
Note: Make this about a month before you plan to use it:
2 cups golden raisins
2 cups dark raisins
4 boxes glaceed cherries, left whole
1 cup dried pineapple, chopped
8 oz chopped, glaceed fruit rinds
1 lb glaceed dessert apricots,* diced or dried figs
1 cup blanched almonds, sliced
1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped (original recipe calls for Brazil nuts)
3 cups flour (I use a gluten-free flour and it works great)
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp powdered nutmeg
1/2 tsp powdered cloves
1/2 lb butter, cut into small pieces
1-1/2 cup dark brown sugar OR 1 cup brown sugar and 1 cup molasses—don’t use blackstrap; it’s too strong)
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup brandy
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Butter and flour loaf pans.
Toss the fruits and nuts with one cup of the flour. Sift remaining flour with salt and spices
Beat butter until light and creamy. Beat in the sugar. Add in the eggs alternately with the sifted flour mixture. Add vanilla and ½ c of the brandy. Fold this into the fruits and nuts.
Spread into the prepared cake pans and cover with oiled foil. Bake in 300 degree oven for 1 ¼ hours. Remove foil and continue cooking for another 1 ¼ hours until the center comes out clean. (Test after 2 total hours)
Cool the cakes in pans for 15 minutes. Unmold onto a wire cooling rack. Pour ½ c brandy over very slowly so it will absorb. Wrap tightly in cheesecloth and foil and store in a cool place or in refrigerator.
Once a week take off the foil and add more brandy.
*I think of the apricots as the “secret” ingredient Loretta was referring to. But figs are good, too.
A Reckoning in the Back Country (coming January, 2018)
When Lewis Wilkins, a physician with a vacation home in Jarrett Creek, is attacked and killed by vicious dogs, and several pet dogs disappear, Police Chief Samuel Craddock suspects that a dog fighting ring is operating in his territory. He has to tread carefully in his investigation, as the lives of lawmen who meddle in dog fighting are at risk.
Digging deeper, Craddock discovers that the public face Wilkins presented was at odds with his private actions. A terrible mistake led to his disgrace as a physician, and far from being a stranger, he is acquainted with a number of county residents who play fast and loose with gambling laws.
Craddock’s focus on the investigation is complicated by a new woman in his life, as well as his accidental acquisition of a puppy.