Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Taking the Show on the Road by Cooking for the Kids
Hello My Friend and Welcome.

Our study of Christmas continues today with an ancient recipe for fruitcake. Fruitcakes are traditionally served during the Christmas season and so I decided to whip one up as a yuletide treat. It’s called Laganum Fructus which is Latin for Cake of Fruit or Cake with Fruit. Fruitcake was quite popular with the soldiers of Rome’s Legions. It was aged with wine and the alcohol preserved the cake and prevented spoilage. Consequently, a Legionnaire could pack his laganum fructus into his loculus,  a traveling pack or duffel bag, and count on the cake keeping until he finished snacking on it.
Fruitcakes are traditionally served during the Christmas season and so I decided to whip up one of these ancient fruitcakes as a yuletide treat. The recipe calls for some aging, so it’s best to make it well ahead of when you plan to serve it. Let’s get something straight. I don’t care whether you love fruitcake or hate the thought of it, gather the kids together and make one anyway. It’s a good way to make the Biblical era real to your children. When you serve it tell them this is the type of cake the boy Jesus might have eaten during Chanukah while he spun his dreidel.

There are two distinct styles of fruitcakes, cakey and fruity. The recipe definitely leans to the fruity side of things. That is, it’s a lot of fruit held together with a little bit of dough. The recipe for this fruitcake consisted of four primary ingredients: pomegranate seeds, pine nuts, dried fruits, and barley flour. The first hurdle you’ll encounter is how to soften pomegranate seeds to the point where they can be chewed without the risk of breaking a tooth. An easiest way is to circumvent this by substituting pomegranate juice, and that’s what the recipe I'll give you calls for.
Most of the pine nuts sold in the grocery stores are imported from China and are often very bitter. The best pine nuts are harvested in the mountainous regions of Nevada and New Mexico. They aren’t in stores, but can be ordered direct over the internet. If you’re a stickler for authenticity, by all means order some. They make wonderful eating. However, they are harvested in the Fall and typically aren’t ready for shipment until Thanksgiving or later. They also sell out pretty quickly, so if you want them don’t delay.
A cheaper alternative would be to substitute slivered almonds. This is a legal replacement since almonds were available in that part of the world in the 1st Century. In addition to eating the nuts out of hand and cooking and baking with them, they also pressed the nuts for their oil and made almond milk, which they used for cooking.
Ingredient list along with comments:
1 C olive oil
1 C honey
1 C pomegranate juice
4 eggs
2 C barley flour
1 C wheat flour…if you want to be authentic use whole wheat flour
2 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp baking powder…This is an easy, but illegal ingredient. The only leavening available in the 1st Century was natural yeast. They would have mixed some of their starter into the barley flour.
1 C of pine nuts
1 ½ C raisins
1 ½ C chopped dates
3 C mixed dried fruit…Equal amounts of apples, plums (prunes), and apricots works well.
Citron is also legal ingredient. If desired, you may add some diced, candied citron. Adjust the quantities of the other fruits proportionally.
Optional: Rose water, wine, grape or apple juice for basting while the cake ages.
Directions: Heat oven to 275 degrees. Grease two 8 1/2" x 4 1/2" loaf pans and line them with parchment or wax paper. Sift all dry ingredients together and set aside. Dice the fruit small, mix in a bowl and set aside. Combine oil, eggs, pomegranate juice and honey. Alternately add portions of the dry ingredients and the oil mixture to the fruit, mixing well each time.
The Finished Product Ready for Aging
When the batter is complete, pour it into the prepared pans. Bake for 2 to 2 ½ hours and check for doneness with a toothpick. Let stand 15 minutes before removing from pans. Do not remove paper. When thoroughly cooled, carefully remove paper and wrap the loaf in cheesecloth soaked with any of the basting ingredients. We boiled a half-and-half mixture of apple and grape juice down to syrup. Seal them in plastic wrap and then in foil and store them in the back of the refrigerator for 2 or more weeks.
An Individual Laganum Fructus Wrapped and Basted
The recipe above will yield two bread pan-sized loaves, each of which weight 2 ½ to 3 pounds.
The Final Analysis
As you can see from the photo at the beginning of this post, we took our show on the road and prepared Laganum Fructus for the youngsters in a Religious Education Class. I want to emphasize that this was done as a teaching tool, a way for the these young people to experience a reasonable facsimile of what people may have eaten 2,000 years ago. Our goal was to make something that tasted good, but accuracy should trump yummy.
Our Laganum Fructus Aged and Sliced
So how did it turn out?
To be brutally honest, the cakes were ranked okay to good. The cake is heavy on dark fruit…raisins, dates, and prunes and, for the sake of authenticity, we used whole wheat and barley flour. The combination of these two factors yielded a dark cake with a strong, but not particularly sweet flavor. Part of the problem, I believe, is that our modern taste buds are accustomed to a much higher level of sweetness than the ancient one. What tasted sweet and good to them seemed a coarse and dry to us. We served the cake with Cool Whip so the children could supplement the taste a bit.
This in no way means the experiment/demonstration was a failure. Whether the cake was of blue ribbon quality or not, it was a success because we replicated something that the children would never have otherwise experienced. I encourage you to pursue this recipe with that same goal in mind.
Our study of Christmas continues next time with a look at the first of the Wise Men's traditional gifts: Gold, the King of Metals.
Until then, we wish you Peace and Blessings.

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