As a child and long afterwards into adulthood, I was under the impression that this day was set aside to honour pugilists like Jack Dempsey or rule-makers like the Marquess of Queensberry. Not so, I found out as I surfed the ‘net. By the way, how did anyone ever manage to gather information this fast before the ‘net and world wide web? Thank you Google, Wikipedia and all of you in Cyberspace with your blogs and websites.
“Boxing” has to do with putting things in a box – the alms-box. In feudal days, lords and ladies of manors “boxed” up or packed clothing and leftover food in boxes for their retainers to take home on 26th December, the second day of Christmas. “Boxing” also means putting alms in the form of money into the alms-boxes in Churches. These boxes are opened and the contents distributed among the poor and needy. Nowadays, the giving of “alms” as the year draws to a close is not confined to the needy. A bonus is paid out not only to deserving workers but also to top-earning managers and CEOs of Banks and Big Corporates. Boxing Day is recognized as a Holiday in the European Union, the United Kingdom and Commonwealth Nations, but not in the US.
In Germany, this alms-giving day is 11th November, the Feast Day of St. Martin, Bishop of Tours (see Christmas Part 3 – Martinmas). In the United Kingdom, 26th December is associated with the legendary King Wenceslaus I of Bohemia, 907-935, an alms-giver himself. In the immortal Christmas carol “Good King Wenceslas”, the king looked out of his window on 26th December, the Feast Day of St. Stephen, the Church’s first Christian martyr. He saw a passing beggar and invited the poor man in to share his table.I am sharing a “family secret” that I have named in the king’s honour - my own version of the Classic Fruit Cake, a “drunken” Fruit Cake not only for the Holiday Season, but for all seasons and occasions.
1 cup dried cranberries
½ cup dried goji berries, leave whole
1 cup raisins
1 cup sultanas
½ cup mixed fruits – candied cherries, angelica, orangeade
2 Tbsp brandy
¼ cup ground almonds
2 Tbsp flour
Mince all dried fruits, place in a bowl. Add the brandy and cover with a foil. Leave overnight. Before adding the fruits to the dough, add ground almonds, mixing well, then add the flour. Set aside.
Coarsely minced dried fruits for the classic fruit cake - raisins, sultanas, cranberries, goji berries, candied angelica, cherries, orangeade etc. Marinade overnight in brandy.
Add finely ground almonds and flour, to keep the fruits from sinking to the bottom.
The Cake Batter
350g (12oz./ 3 cups) Flour
¾ cup fine brown sugar
250g (10 oz./ 2 sticks and 1 Tbsp) butter, softened
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
Cream brown sugar and softened butter until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the flour sifted with the baking powder and salt. Mix well. Stir in the fruits. Pour into a greased 9” x 13” pan, making a slight well in the centre. Bake 1½ hours at 350 F or 170 C or till a skewer comes out clean. To prevent over-browning, cover with foil the last 30 minutes of baking. Place the pan on a rack and allow the cake to cool in the pan.
Remove the cake from the pan, cut into 4 portions. Prick each portion on top and bottom with a toothpick. Drizzle with brandy. Wrap each brandied portion in a foil. Store in an airtight container. Drizzle with brandy every week. Bake at least two weeks before you aim to serve this “drunken” fruitcake.