This buttery, almond flavoured cherry cake is an old family favourite! I’ve recently found it works just as well in this gluten free version made with almond and coconut flour.
A story is woven from the threads of a writer’s life.
The recipe for Children’s Delight cookies has been in my recipe binder forever. Just looking at the old card, written in my mother’s scrawl, brings back a rush of memories. The recipe card is stained and had comments written in after the fact (more butter!). And up in the corner, in brackets it says “Raylene Ewing”
Raylene was my good friend in Toronto when I was in grades seven and eight. Just seeing her name is an emotional blast from the past.
I didn’t plan to put the recipe in Summer of Fortune, but suddenly, there it was.
On the top shelf rested a wooden box. Stretching to her full height Maddie carefully brought it down, wiping the dust from the top. She held it in one hand, studying the scenes of the lake carved into the lid. Inside, yellowing recipe cards were written in a spidery hand: Sunday Blackberry Cake, October Relish, Children’s Delight Cookies.
An old fashioned drop cookie, they make the kitchen smell like cinnamon and cloves, an aroma that, in the story, comes to introduce the presence of Aunt Augusta the previous owner of the cabin who is, ahem, no longer with us.
The recipe also provides an introduction to Maddie’s backstory.
Maddie didn’t have any hand-me-down recipes. Most of hers came from magazines. These recipe names conjured up visions of a woman in an apron with streaks of flour on her face, like a character in an old movie. Her own mother had never cooked and Maddie was sure she didn’t own an apron. She had spent most of her time on the couch, watching her soaps with a beer in her hand.
Maddie inhaled deeply the unfamiliar scent of cinnamon and cloves that lingered in the box, and then, closing the lid, she placed the box on the windowsill over the sink where she could admire the carving.
Maddie ended up making the cookies, again and again, a sensory lure her handsome landlord couldn’t resist and a symbol of her move to another kind of life.
Here’s the recipe. Enjoy! (Are you out there Raylene?)
For years we had a big – I mean BIG – cherry tree, but eventually it fell to disease and we had to chop it down and plant another. That one didn’t reach maturity before we had to move, but by then I was hooked on having a freezer full of cherries. Now every year I wait like a cougar in a tree for the prices to drop: $6.99, $4.99, $3.99, then, finally last week, $2.99 a pound and I pounced!
The California cherries are the first, then Washington state, then finally, fresh BC cherries from the Okanagan Valley, the inland, fruit and wine producing region of the province. Sweet, dark and Juicy, this year they are very BIG – almost too big for my doubled barrel cherry pitter. Yes, I’m serious about my cherries.
I usually freeze them with a dusting of sugar (don’t judge me!) but this year I seemed to hear about brandied cherries at every turn. “Too much trouble,” I thought, but they did sound good – Christmas gifts, I rationalized – and I soon found myself in the liquor store, looking at Brandy.
“Use a brandy you would want to drink,” the recipe cautioned. But I knew I wouldn’t want to drink any of it. Then I saw the Sliivovica (pronounced Slivovi-ch-a) and was flooded with fond memories of travelling in Eastern Europe where every generous host brings out the Sliivovica. Not good tasting! But as a woman I could gracefully decline, and our Czech friend Peter could say he was driving, but my poor husband always had to drink a glass with the host – even at breakfast!
Those were the days.
So I bypassed the fancy French brandy and bought the bottle of the crystal clear Croatian Plum Brandy, the only brand of Sliivovica they sold. Peter had told us how as children, in plum season, they would collect prune plums on the way home from school and drop them in a barrel fermenting in the shed on the way into the house so their dad could make his own Sliivovica. We visited his house, family compound really, in a small Czech town where his Aunt and cousin’s family still live, and I could just picture it.
So I bought the bottle, and then was plagued with doubt as to whether it would work in my recipe. And, like most of my cooking attempts it had quickly become my recipe.
But oh my goodness! I tasted a bit of the liquor after boiling the cherries in it with the sugar, cinnamon stick and cloves and wow! It’s going to be amazing! Now if I can just wait the prescribed 4 – 6 weeks.
I might have to buy another bottle and make another batch. The cherries will be around for at least another week.
Let me know how yours turn out!
After 22 years in this house I’m moving, and I think the thing I’ll miss the most is the fig tree. It’s not fig season yet, the figs are still hard little nubs on the branch, but last year the figs ripened while I was in Scotland and my friends left bags of fruit for me in the freezer that the move has prompted me to deal with.
So I’m making jam, three batches of fig and ginger jam, to be exact, and thinking it might be my last. Possibly not the most pressing job in this crazy month, but soothing, somehow.
I’m feeling sentimental because the bower beneath the fig arbor (the tree gets so heavy with fruit that we had to build a support) was the scene of Stephanie and Max’s first kiss in The Good Neighbor. In my Fortune Bay series, Stephanie is the matriarch, and a widow, alone until Max comes along. He’s new in town and, well, they hit it off right away.
The fig tree scene from The Good Neighbor:
Max walked around the corner of the house into Stephanie’s back yard. The warm breeze off the lake smelled sweet as honey wine. “Steph?”
A disembodied voice floated to him on the wind. “Over here.”
He scanned the yard and noticed a tree the size and shape of an elephant, up against one of the out buildings, shivering, its big, lobed leaves quaking. He headed over and stepped under the trellis that held up the long, knotted branches. Sunlight penetrated the translucent leaves creating a cool and ethereal bower.
“The figs are in!” Stephanie’s triumphant voice emerged from inside the tree. A stepladder with two feet perched on a rung halfway up, leaned against the arbor. Long, firm legs rose from there, ending where Stephanie’s baggy green shorts disappeared into the dense leafy branches.
“Help me,” she said, her hand appearing beneath the canopy of leaves, cupping a succulent green fruit.
Max took the warm fig from her hand. He’d never seen fresh figs before. So soft you couldn’t pile them without them losing their shape, he placed it carefully into the cardboard flat at the foot of the ladder.
Splat! One fell at his feet, bursting like a water balloon.
“Sorry.” Stephanie’s voice was muffled by the layers of leaves between them. He bent over to look at the fallen fruit more closely. It had broken open on impact, revealing bright pink flesh inside that looked like a million tiny caterpillars.
“Are they supposed to look like that?”
“Well, that one is very ripe. Here, take these.”
He reached a hand up by her hip to take the next handful, fully aware he could have run his hand right up her leg and into those baggy shorts. Instead he placed the fruit on the flat, then gazed around, suddenly seeing hundreds of camouflaged green orbs, the same luminous colour as the leaves. A wasp buzzed past his ear and settled on the mashed fruit at his feet.
“Can I help?” He reached up and gingerly touched a fig sticking out from a branch. Having seen how soft they could be, he was afraid to squeeze it, but this one was as firm as a zucchini so he left it on the tree. “How do you tell if they’re ripe?”
“They hang pendulously,” Stephanie said. “And the colour changes, takes on a yellowish cast.”
Now he could see the difference. Some of the fruit stuck straight out from the branches, but others had developed a suggestive droop. Like a ripe breast. He reached out and held the weight of one in his hand and could tell without squeezing that it was ready. With the fruit in his palm, he pulled the fig towards him and it tore away leaving a shred of green skin attached to the branch. The fruit oozed a few white drops of a liquid into his hand.
This just gets more and more suggestive, he thought, a grin on his face as he bent over and set it gently with the others.
Stephanie took a step backwards down the ladder, the green shorts stretched over her round bottom coming down to eye level. Her hands were full of fruit and the ladder wobbled as she took another step. Max reached out to steady the ladder with one hand on either side as she continued to climb down, into the circle of his arms. When she turned around, she smiled.
They were in her yard, yet the bower screened them in a private world.
She met his eyes. “Let me put these down.”
He stepped back, sorry to see the moment pass, kicking himself for not taking the chance while he had her in his arms. As she bent over to the cardboard flat, her breasts swayed pendulously, brushing his arm. His eyes swelled. She wasn’t wearing a bra.
She stood up, stepped back into his space and met his gaze. Was that a smile on her full luscious lips? His arms reached out and there, in the green glow under the arbour, pulled her into an embrace. A forbidden, Garden of Eden embrace.
Their lips touched gently, exploring, and her hands came up to his shoulders. He deepened the kiss and her lips softened in response. His hands dropped to her waist, brushing the sides of her free-hanging breasts. Not grabbing, not even really touching, just feeling the weight.
And she laughed, rich and deep. She’s ripe too, he thought, his head reeling with the suggestion.
Then she stepped back and bent to pick up the flat of fruit and, as they emerged into the sunlight, the moment became like a scent left in the bower. But he would remember the feel of her, and the taste, and promised himself he’d taste it again.
“A drink?” she asked. “It must be that time.”
He followed her back to the house and when they were sitting in the screen porch, drinks in their hands, she said, “That was great, but—aren’t you married?”
“Sort of.” How could he explain the woman who called herself his wife? He was unable to put the cold years into words, too shy to admit that this was what he wanted.
She looked at him directly, obviously amused by his reply. “I can’t have an affair with a sort-of-married man.”
“I know,” he said.
And they finished their drinks in companionable silence as the blue of evening fell around them.
* * * * *
And although I’ve never been kissed beneath the fig tree, it is a magical place and I will miss it. But as luck would have it, I’d rooted a baby fig that I will take with me and maybe in a few years, when my supply of jam runs out, this tree will be big enough to start giving me figs.
This is my fantastic old recipe for the Best Christmas Fruitcake Ever, but in a new form. Fruitcake cupcakes!
It’s always so popular, so sweet and moist, that even though the recipe makes 5 small loaves, it’s never enough to give a nice looking piece to the number of people I want to share it with.
So this year I tried baking it in muffin cups–with some success. I immediately discovered that if it’s not a loaf, you’ll want to cut the cherries into smaller pieces. (When you slice the loaf the cherries automatically get sliced.) That left me digging the cherries out of the batter–well, you get the picture. The alternative would be to put in a lot more cherries! I’ll leave that decision to you.
I started with the tiny muffin/ cupcake tins, 1 1/2 inches in diameter, and saw right away that the fruit mix was too coarse for that size–and that you’d want to do something about that before mixing into the batter. (see above) Also, they baked too fast and got very crispy on the top. Basically little rocks. Most of those went into the compost. 🙁
Regular sized muffin tins worked well though, but I would still recommend cutting up the cherries. I tried putting a half a candied cherry on top but most of them sank into the mix.
Other than that, they were very successful! 🙂
This recipe is so moist (it’s the jam and pineapple) that you really don’t have to wrap the cakes cloths soaked in brandy, or fruit juice, or, my favorite, Fireball. So I’m not planning on wrapping the cupcakes. (Although I will wrap the loaves in brandy soaked cloths, and foil, and put them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator until Christmas.)
But I would suggest baking them in paper or, even better, foil lined muffin cups (they might stick to paper) since they get slightly candied on top and stick to the tins. I didn’t do that and had to cut them out of the tins.
And only bake for one hour thirty minutes, checking occasionally from one hour on.
It’s a great recipe, nothing like the dry cakes you buy in the supermarket. Give it a try and let me know what you think.
PS _ The winner of the print copy of The Good Neighbor in November’s Facebook sweepstakes was Teresa Byrd! Congratulations Teresa!
Watch for next month’s contest when you’ll be able to enter in comments on the blog post too.