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A Gift of Friendship (Recipe: Vanilla Wafer Icebox Fruitcake)

September 16, 2013
by Jackie Garvin

My friend, Dawn, and I share a common background.  We come from a long line of Southerners and we both grew up in the Deep South.  She in Mississippi and Alabama, me in Alabama and Alabama. Our customs, food memories and culture are almost the same.  We understand the same lingo. We share the same values.  We have the same accent.  If we really put our minds to it, I bet we could happen up on a common blood line.

I just love Dawn to pieces.

Last Christmas, she started talking about an icebox fruitcake that was an old family favorite.  Icebox cakes and pies were quite popular years ago so it seemed natural that her family would have a favorite recipe.  Then, she mentioned that you make the fruitcake with vanilla wafers and put it back in the vanilla wafer box.

Hold the phone!

A small, non-injurious explosion went off in my brain.  The kind of explosion that knocks the cobwebs off my memory files. Dawn helped me remember something that hadn’t made it out of my memory files in decades.

I don’t know that my Granny ever made this fruitcake but I sure remember she and her friends chattering about it.

“Don’t you know that is the smartest thing evah to put that there  fruitcake back into the vaniller cookie box!”

Dawn’s recipe belonged to her Mother’s parents, who she knows as Mawmaw and Pawpaw. She’s  unsure how they got it but she thinks her Pawpaw brought it home.  Typical of men in his generation, he squarely believed the kitchen, and everything to do with the kitchen, was the responsibility of the woman.  His love of this fruitcake allowed him to swallow his pride long enough to get in the kitchen and help Mawmaw make the fruitcake after she was unable to make it unassisted.  Icebox fruitcake making time was the only time Pawpaw helped in the kitchen.

Dawn recalls the family  tradition of  the fruitcake at Christmas.  It was typically given as gifts with the boxes wrapped in shiny aluminum foil and decorated with bows. Dawn’s ancestors were of meager means, just as mine. They were able to pick up nuts from yards  for free ,making the fruitcake affordable,and would use any mixture of nuts they could find.  We included maraschino cherries in the recipe which Dawn’s grandparents wouldn’t have been able to afford.  The use of the vanilla wafer box as a storage/serving container was typical of the frugal nature of our grandparent’s generation.

Miss Judy, Dawn’s Mama, insists the fruitcake tastes better if you slice it very thin.  John, Dawn’s husband, is of the opinion that the bigger the slice , the better it tastes.

Basset Creek Baptist Church, Grove Hill, Alabama, published a community cookbook in which Miss Judy shared this much-loved recipe.  The church, established March 31, 1810, created the cookbook in celebration of their  150th anniversary, Dawn believes.

I sure enjoyed Dawn coming into my kitchen to teach me her family’s story of Vanilla Wafer Icebox Fruitcake.  We both have such love and respect for our ancestors and our backgrounds.  The more we talk, the more it seems we were raised in the same family.  Even if we never confirm that we’re cousins, we will always be “Southern sistahs.”

Y’all come see us!



Vanilla Wafer Icebox Fruitcake

Vanilla Wafer Icebox Fruitcake


Icebox Fruitcake

The only items that should remain constant are vanilla wafers and Eagle Brand condensed milk following the specified amounts in the recipe.  Any combination of nuts or dried fruits may be used in place of, or in addition to, walnuts and raisins. 

1 box vanilla wafers

1 (14 ounce) can Eagle Brand condensed milk

2 cups dark raisins (or about half of a 20 ounce can)

15 ounces chopped walnuts

1 (10 ounce) jar maraschino cherries, chopped (optional owing to your budget)

(1) Pretty Dawn showing off her icebox fruitcake wearing one of my feedsack aprons. She remembers her Mama wearing aprons just like it. (2) Basset Creek  Baptist Church community cookbook containing the recipe submitted by Dawn's Mama. (3) Dawn crushes the vanilla wafers. (4) Save the box after you take out the cookies. Cut the top flap with a keen knife. (5) Remove the wrapper and a cut flap in the top. (6)The box is prepared. Tape the open end so it stays closed.(7) You've got to get in there with your hands to mix. (8) Pack it good into the box. Remember to work it into the corners.

(1) Pretty Dawn showing off her icebox fruitcake wearing one of my feedsack aprons. She remembers her Mama wearing aprons just like it. (2) Basset Creek Baptist Church community cookbook containing the recipe submitted by Dawn’s Mama. (3) Dawn crushes the vanilla wafers. (4) Save the box after you take out the cookies. Cut the top flap with a keen knife. (5) Remove the wrapper and a cut flap in the top. (6)The box is prepared. Tape the open end so it stays closed.(7) You’ve got to get in there with your hands to mix. (8) Pack it good into the box. Remember to work it into the corners.


Pour vanilla wafers into a plastic storage bag and crush with a rolling-pin (don’t throw that bag away!)  Texture is a matter of choice.  Dawn prefers chunks of cookies.  Miss Judy crushes hers to a powder. Empty crushed cookies into a bowl.

Prepare box as show above.

Add condensed milk to the wafers.  Stir slightly.

Add remaining ingredients and mix well with hands.

Pack into the prepared box.  Smooth it out and work it into the corners.

Close flap and tape just enough to hold it closed.  Slip box back into the storage bag used to crush the cookies.  Store in refrigerator overnight before slicing.

Keep refrigerated and store in plastic bag to keep it from drying out.


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29 Comments leave one →
  1. Mona Hickey permalink
    September 16, 2013 7:33 pm

    The mother of a childhood friend use to make a vanilla wafer fruit cake that was so good. It was similar to this recipe, but I’m pretty sure she put melted marshmallows in it. She also added some candied fruit. I am going to make this in the near future.

    • September 16, 2013 7:36 pm


      I’ve seen versions with marshmallows in it, too. I hope this fruitcake reminds you of your childhood. :)

  2. cookiet tennison permalink
    September 16, 2013 8:48 pm

    I make one and use graham crackers,candied cherries(green and red) black raisins,green coconut (or frozen) pecans and English walnuts, eagle brand milk and put back in box… I may try yours….

  3. Dona permalink
    September 16, 2013 9:34 pm

    First, I marinate the fruit in blackberry wine for several weeks. I make my fruitcake with marshmallows, butter and cinnamon graham crackers. I’ll have to try this one too.

    • September 17, 2013 5:34 am

      Oh, my gosh, Dona! That sounds decadent! Marinating in blackberry wine is such a nice touch. 😉

  4. Janet Beaman permalink
    September 17, 2013 7:29 am

    I have heard of the this recipe but not putting it back into the box! So you store it in the refrigerator? Love your blog and recipes!

  5. Shari permalink
    September 17, 2013 7:32 am

    This Pennsylvania/Maryland gal is so happy to have you two as friends…….I can tell you about Shoo Fly pie……but Vanilla Wafer cake in a box is totally new to me. I’m going to try it!!!

  6. Barbara permalink
    September 17, 2013 7:44 am

    This sounds good! Quick question: Are you using a jar a cherries (not dried)?

    • September 17, 2013 10:33 am


      Yes, we used a jar of maraschino cherries packed in liquid. Drain the liquid and chop the cherries.

  7. Jean permalink
    September 17, 2013 8:45 am

    Jackie you know I love fruitcake! We bought our vanilla wafers in a bag! There are those vanilla wafers you are showing now but thru my childhood and beyond we bought them in a cello sack! Imagine trying to do that with a bag! It sure does look good and I would enjoy having a piece of that cake right now! I hope one day you try and make the layered fruitcake recipe i sent you. A lot more stuff and a lot more trouble but good. Have a great day!

    • September 17, 2013 10:30 am


      I was just looking at your layered fruitcake recipe the other day. I do need to make it. :)

  8. Sue T permalink
    September 17, 2013 1:04 pm

    I may not share your southern roots, but I love reading about yours, Jackie. I love you and I love your sweet friend Dawn and am blessed to have you both as my friends.

  9. Sue, a Florida Farm Girl permalink
    September 17, 2013 4:47 pm

    Where’s the coconut, girlfriend? There’s gotta be coconut in there, too!!! Ours was made using graham crackers, though, but ‘nilla wafers would work just fine. A box of grahams, a quart of chopped pecans, that eagle brand milk, a bottle of maraschino cherries chopped up, a can of coconut and a box of raisins. My brother still makes this for Christmas.

    • September 17, 2013 4:55 pm


      Dawn’s grandparents considered coconut a luxury they couldn’t afford. I remember my grandparents getting fresh coconut and making coconut cakes. A fresh coconut is hateful and harder to do anything with than a rutabaga. I keep saying I’m going to get my hands on one to recreate Granny’s fresh coconut cake. So far…’s not happening.

    • denise permalink
      December 22, 2013 1:52 pm

      I can’t believe I’m finally seeing this on the internet. growing up my mother made this every Christmas. (North Carolina) she also add coconut. I grew up thinking this is a secret family recipe. it was always a huge production every Christmas to make these cakes. we would have to Shell the nuts for days and get everything ready and my mother wouldmix it all together.. I could always remember eating the fruit cake off my mother’s hand when I was really little it’s great to see that others share the same memories… thank you for sharing your version of the recipe..

      • December 23, 2013 8:24 am

        Thanks for stopping by and sharing your food memory with us. Merry Christmas!

  10. September 18, 2013 9:26 am

    My Nannie also made this fruitcake, It was so good! I have done it in the past, but not for a lon g time. Thanks for the memory – I will most defintely put it on my list again this year for holiday “baking”.

  11. Kevin permalink
    September 20, 2013 5:37 pm

    Jackie, I use the medium size container of fruitcake mix and vanilla wafers with the eagle brand milk. I put everything in the food processor, then put it on some Saran Wrap and roll it into a log. I love icebox fruitcake!!!!

  12. Belinda Johnson permalink
    October 5, 2013 3:02 pm

    My granny had a dear friend that lived on the Cumberland Plateau and she made the fruitcake with graham crackers. I had the recipe for years and lost it in one to many moves. Thanks for sharing and bring back some precious memories of a day long long ago.

  13. October 22, 2014 12:59 pm

    I’ve made this many times using graham cracker crumps. The vanilla wafers sound great in this. I’m going to have to try it. that is…..after my November Dr. appt :)

    I usually end up eating the whole recipe by myself.

    • October 23, 2014 11:14 am


      It’s a shame when you make something good and nobody appreciates it but you. Best of luck with your doctor’s appointment in November. Then, bring on the Vanilla Wafers!

  14. motherwouldknow permalink
    December 11, 2014 2:30 pm

    I’ve never heard of this particular version before, but I do love fruitcake. What a creative and easy way to make it! Thanks for stopping by our Happy Holidays Link Party – be sure to join us again this week, beginning on Saturday at 7 pm ET.

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