By Mark Wieser
Sometime in the mid-60s keeping a jar of fermenting fruits on one’s kitchen countertop became the rage. It was so easy to place a heaping spoonful or two of this topping over a mound of vanilla ice cream or to drizzle it over a freshly baked slice of pound cake. It added sweetness, it was tasty, and so, so enjoyable! We obviously were not counting calories. Researching this topping revealed some interesting things. Firstly, few today understand what this was. Secondly, it has nothing to do with making brandy or brandied fruits and finding its real origin proved quite elusive.
Some sources were convinced its origin dated back to the mid-1800s, when people figured out how to preserve fruits of summer and autumn without losing their flavor. Others claimed brandied fruit was commonly served at parties during the Civil War, over sherbets or cake.
Brandied peaches, once so popular, now appear to be only a relic found in very old cookbooks. Brandied Fruit was once alleged to have become the prime ingredient of an old traditional Christmas Friendship Cake, similar to the concept of a starter for sourdough bread, it became the tradition to share a cup with a friend to help them start their own batch. This actually had first become popular in the Victorian era.
After considerable surfing on the internet, and there being no mention of a Brandied Fruit recipe in the Fredericksburg Home Cook Book, I finally found an article at Feed the Spirit, dated September 2013 which confirmed that in the mid-70s, it seemed everyone had a big glass jar of brandied fruit on their kitchen counter. “It looked so pretty,” it opined, “yellow pineapple chunks, orange peach slices, maraschino cherries. And it tasted so good as a topping for pound cake or ice cream!”
Fruits and sugar were added and for a week or more it was left alone to ferment—completely unrefrigerated. It required feeding every couple of weeks or even daily to replace what had been taken out and eaten to keep the concoction going. The sugar started the fermentation process which began to produce alcohol. The alcohol in turn killed any bacteria in the jar and created something just downright yummy. Sadly, there was just so much pound cake anyone could eat, and Brandied Fruit soon seemed to lose its magic, for it required constant monitoring just like a baby. It took up counter space and ours was finally, simply euthanized— by devouring it all to the last spoonful. And, amazingly, half a century passed, and I have never heard it spoken of again!
Perhaps it’s not only the work that keeps people from making Brandied Fruit today, but the proposition sounds just a little doubtful. Leave some mixture of fruits and sugar in a jar opened on one’s kitchen counter for weeks? And eat them—unrefrigerated! “In our hyper-Pasteurian, expiration date-driven era, it might be difficult to relinquish control over our food to these mysterious forces”, said one source I found.
I would like to speak up for this forgotten tradition and propose we bring it back in style. We should all leave a jar of this pro-biotic driven food out on our counter for weeks, even months—and discover why many chefs and consumers have found a new world of flavor and texture that has long been missing from U.S. tables. After all, those who first settled Fredericksburg understood that making sauerkraut required cabbage fermenting in large wooden barrels—not to mention what making wine required. They had known that for centuries and relied upon these unseen-life forms to create myriad delicious, nuanced non-vinegar ferments. Now, living in Texas, they discovered our warmer temperatures encouraged those unseen bacteria to thrive even more rapidly than they had in the old country.
I did find a recipe to share with you and I hope you will try it. Some recipes suggest that one never allow your jar to become less than three cups. Add more fruit and sugar, perhaps every two weeks. Remember, this is growing culture that must be maintained just like one rears a kid. If it becomes too much trouble for you, I suppose we must remember, kids do eventually grow up.
Any fruits that you like—particularly
2 cups canned or freshly chopped peaches
2 cups canned pineapples chunks (drained)
1 cup maraschino cherries (also pitted and sliced), etc.
1 cup of pitted and chopped plums (if desired)
Perhaps totaling a minimum of 2 ½ pounds assorted fruits
6 cups white sugar
Combine all ingredients in a clean, large glass jar, crock, etc.
Stir with a wooden spoon.
Cover with a loosely fitting lid, at room temperature for three weeks.
Stir a bit daily for 2 to 4 weeks
When fruits become translucent it is ready for using.”
Replenish with more fruits each time some is taken out.
Best served over cold, old-fashioned vanilla ice cream. Even better over a fresh-baked peach cobbler.