Mother’s Fruitcake Recipe, Holiday Memories from the Depression onward, and a little family history—Ruth Evelyn Johnston-Thompson’s Golden (California) Fruitcake

You may be finished with your holiday baking. You may be sated from all your holiday eating.

Or, you may be bored in this week of the dead in these days between Christmas Day and New Year in which my birthday happens to fall.

Or, you may even be collecting yourself for next year. You may even be collecting recipes for next year.

If you are collecting recipes for next year, you couldn’t find a better one than this one from my Mother.

Mother’s recipe came from her mother, Grace Johnston, a farm wife during the Great Depression, and one of the strongest and most clever you might find anywhere. The Johnston Fruitcake was a part of Mother’s growing up memories. When the family was hard up they used to roast beans to substitute for the nuts. Many of the ingredients that we use today for the fruitcake were not only not affordable, but simply not available during the Depression, especially in rural Illinois.

After Mother set out on her own and started her own family and her own family traditions, she, as an inveterate tinkerer, began to fine tune the Johnston Fruitcake recipe and make it her own.

Mother loved to collect recipes. My brother, Gary, told me as we baked that she’d morphed the Johnston Fruitcake recipe and the Golden California Fruitcake recipe found in a cookbook together to make the Ruth Thompson Fruitcake Recipe as we know it today.

No citron and candied cherries for her. No spirit-instilled dark and heavy confection for her. No, this is a light lovely batter wrapping the freshest and most delectable of dried ingredients. She first discovered these a few decades ago visiting me in California, and brought them into her fruitcake.

My brother and I made six fruitcakes this year, slated only for those fruitcake aficianados of the world. Gary figures the world is made up of those who like fruitcake and those who don’t…and, I think…those who have yet to taste my Mother’s Golden Fruitcake. Here’s the recipe. If you like, and if you think you’re a fruitcake person, you can try it for yourself. –JGR




1. Cut waxpaper (2 layers) and put in bread pan, sides then ends (have a second bread pan ready to add the overflow if needed)

Sift 2 cups flour and 1 teaspoon baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon salt together. Sift more than once if necessary and have this ready for step 3 below.

2. Chop 1/2 pound pecans (slice these into 1/4s)
Add to the pecans in a mixing bowl:
1 cup chopped almonds
1 cup raisins
2 cups dried apricots chopped fine (the size of raisins)
1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped dried mango
1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped dried papaya
1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped dried pineapple
1/4 cup coconut
Mix this all together by hand and “dust” with 1/4 cup of flour to make it less sticky.

3. Put in mixer:
1/2 stick butter
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
Turn this on for four minutes until texture is like ice cream

Add flour mixture from step 1 slowly and blend into this batter.

4. Add the batter to the fruit and stir in with a wooden spoon.

5. Add 1/4 of a can of concentrated frozen orange juice and stir this into the mixture. The mixture will be rather stiff.

6. Put the batter in pans pressing it down into the pan and smoothing off the top of the cake batter.

Use a rubber scraper to scrape the sides of the waxed paper so it has no excess batter on it.

7. Bake the cake (cakes) at 325 for 1 to 1 1/4 hours until they are GOLDEN in color, not dark. Test with a toothpick.

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  1. Yum! I’ve never tasted anything like it before…I’m so glad you shared some of your store with me.

  2. I am a rare bird in that I admit I LIKE fruitcake. I never met a fruitcake that I didn’t like, and this one sounds really, really special (I’m an expert reader of recipes!). It is going into my ever-growing list of recipes to try.

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