The People, Places, and the History of The Northern Neck of VA

November 18, 2022

Home From Louisiana

Shirley M.H. Curry’s Fruitcake

The week before Thanksgiving, my mom would start to make her fruitcakes.

Her father, Clinton M. Hill of White Stone, VA, was one of the first few Black captains of  boats that fished off the Gulf of Mexico.  Gone for several months, men from the Northern Neck, who worked on those boats, would be coming home from the end of the fishing season. 

Granddaddy Hill’s arrival meant bags of pecans he brought back from Louisiana, which in our house, signaled the shelling of pecans for Mama’s fruitcakes. 

We kids helped with the shelling, and it was hard work. Hard because you wanted as many whole halves to decorate the tops of the cakes, and hard because you could not help eating the sweet, buttery nuts.

You also had to make sure no shells were in your pile for the cakes or you would get ragged on!

After Mama made her cakes, she would moisten them with Welch’s grape juice, put a generous slice of an apple either in the center of cake (she used the obligatory tube cake pan) or, if in loaves, on top of the cakes, then she wrapped them in plastic wrap, then clean brown wrapping paper, then foil, then finally place them in her clean silver lard tin can.

She would soak the cakes with grape juice every week until the week of Christmas.  Later on in years, the grape juice was replaced with rum, or brandy, or, I think maybe even, bourbon…we were old enough to eat our libations by then.

Christmas day, fruitcake; moist, full of nuts, and if you were lucky, a slice that had a pecan on it.


Say what you will, this fruitcake slams!

  • 3 cups pitted dates
  • 3 cups raisins (golden raisins are okay!)
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 cup chopped English walnuts
  • 1 container of candied fruit
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup grape juice
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup butter
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups flour (all purpose)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp each: cloves, mace, and cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 and 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • Pour into a well greased and floured tube cake pan
  • Pecan and walnuts halves for garnish 
  • Candied fruit for garnish
  • 275 degrees for two (2) and 1/2 hours.

Mix candied fruit and nuts with melted butter, sugar, and juice together. Leave at room temperature overnight (I would say this would be at least a six to eight hours set).

Add all the dry ingredients with the fruit and nut mixture together.  WARNING!!! This is a STIFF mixture.  My mom would use her CLEAN hands to stir this mixture up…have at it, folks…it’s important to incorporate the mixture fully before pouring it to the pans.

  1. Line your cake pan/loaf pans with parchment paper OR the brown wrapping paper aka shopping bag. 
  2. Flour your pans well including the tube of the pan.
  3. Put your decorations of nut halves and candied fruit on the cake before  baking.
  4. After the cake is cooled enough to remove from the pan, the apple is place in the hole of the cake, pour your juice, or the liquor of choice, wrap tightly with the outer paper, then foil, and leave it alone until the next soaking.  The apple helps to slowly retain the moisture in the cake.
  5. If you are making the cakes as gifts, you can leave the cake in the pan, but the soaking and wrapping ritual remains the same.

This cake will make your spirit rise, so a small serving is advised. 

I think a hard sauce was served with this but I may be mistaken.  I do remember a white sauce in a  small jar that I would sneak a spoonful out of the fridge when I was young.  It had brandy in it…I was developing a palate even then!


  1. Sharon Wilson says:

    Love it!!! Dad used to help Mom make hers because the ingredients would be so stiff to stir. I love it!

    1. Sprite says:

      Those were the days! Did Capt’n Gus bring back pecans, too?

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