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