Among Mississippi cookbooks, The Jackson Cookbook, first issued by the Symphony League of Jackson in 1971 and followed by a well-deserved 30th anniversary issue, has the singular distinction of being a literary treasure. Eudora Welty’s introduction, “The Flavor of Jackson”, is a savory dish of Southern culinary exposition. The editor of a local publication once expressed surprise that Jackson had a culinary history “worth writing about”, but she was, as most local editors seem to be, unfamiliar with Jackson as well as Welty. Eudora’s essay is a finely-seasoned piece with a wonderful flavor all its own. Most of the city’s culinary history concerns home cooking, since restaurants here were rather much a novelty until the mid-twentieth century, but Jackson’s storied hospitality has always featured a splendid board.
One holiday item she writes about in the introduction is a white fruitcake. “I make Mrs. Mosal’s White Fruitcake every Christmas, having got it from my mother, who got it from Mrs. Mosal, and I often think to make a friend’s fine recipe is to celebrate her once more,” Welty wrote. The recipe in The Jackson Cookbook was submitted by Mrs. Mosal’s daughter, Mrs. D.I. Meredith. In 1980, a limited edition Christmas card was send out from Albondocani Press, Ampersand Books and Welty. For this piece of ephemera, Eudora greatly expanded on the original recipe.
1 1/2 cups butter
2 cups sugar
6 eggs, separated
4 cups flour, sifted before measuring
flour for fruit and nuts
2 tsp. baking powder
pinch of salt
1 pound pecan meats (halves, preferably)
1 pound crystallized cherries, half green, half red
1 pound crystallized pineapple, clear
some citron or lemon peel if desired
1 cup bourbon
1 tsp. vanilla
nutmeg if desired
Make the cake several weeks ahead of Christmas if you can. The recipe makes three-medium-sized cakes or one large and one small. Prepare the pans — the sort with a chimney or tube — by greasing them well with Crisco and then lining them carefully with three layers of waxed paper, all greased as well.
Prepare the fruit and nuts ahead. Cut the pineapple in thin slivers and the cherries in half. Break up the pecan meats, reserving a handful or so shapely halves to decorate the tops of the cakes. Put in separate bowls, dusting the fruit and nuts lightly in a sifting of flour, to keep them from clustering together in the batter.
In a very large wide mixing bowl (a salad bowl or even a dishpan will serve) cream the butter very light, then beat in the sugar until all is smooth and creamy. Sift in the flour, with the baking powder and salt added, a little at a time, alternating with the unbeaten egg yolks added one at a time. When all this is creamy, add the floured fruits and nuts, gradually, scattering the lightly into the batter, stirring all the while, and add the bourbon in alteration little by little. Lastly, whip the egg whites into peaks and fold in.
Start the oven now, about 250. Pour the batter into the cake-pans, remembering that they will rise. Decorate the tops with nuts. Bake for three hours or more, until they spring back to the touch and a straw inserted at the center comes out clean and dry. (If the top browns too soon, lay a sheet of foil lightly over.) When done, the cake should be a warm golden color.
When they’ve cooled enough to handle, run a spatula around the sides of each cake, cover the pan with a big plate, turn the pan over and slip the cake out. Cover the cake with another plate and turn rightside up. When cool, the cake can be wrapped in cloth or foil and stored in a tightly fitted tin box. From time to time before Christmas you may improve it with a little more bourbon, dribbled over the top to be absorbed and so ripen the cake before cutting. This cake will keep for a good while, in or out of the refrigerator.