Friends, Fruit and Sultana Cake

For Mum Christmas Holiday baking began in October. Fruit cakes, plum puddings, gum drop cakes, things which need curing were first, followed by the long list of sweets and savories treats which had become favourites in our family. Christmas baking for Mum meant focusing on special recipes those reserved for Christmas, including Elizabeth Moody’s Sultana1 Cake.

Vickers family home, Blackville, NB c.1900 Photo courtesy of our Miramichi Heritage Family FB site.

The telling of how this recipe became part of the My Mother’s Cookbooks collection is almost as much a Christmas tradition as the cake it’s self. Elizabeth Maud Walls Moody born 1895 Blackville, Northumberland County, New Brunswick was a woman known for her baking, her Sultana Cake in particular, but she was also known not to share this recipe.

Not all cooks share their recipes. It is a personal choice, and quite reasonable considering the risks to reputation sharing a recipe might mean. Elizabeth did not share this recipe, but she made the cake and shared it, generously. How else would she and her Sultana cake have gained reputation?

c. 1930, Main street Blackville, NB Photo courtesy of the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick Blackville Historical Family Collection Image number P143-18

Women’s Institutes; The Canadian Red Cross; Home and School Associations; Hospital Auxiliary’s; Church women’s groups; Legion Auxiliary’s etc. represent women actively serving their communities. Fundraising, the means to do the work of the group depends heavily on the generosity of women like Elizabeth and Greta Vickers Sturgeon. Scratch under the surface and you see hours of back breaking work, volunteer effort, by women. Cooking, baking, serving, washing dishes, etc. all done in aid of the group’s cause, suppers, bake sales and catered events.

For, Elizabeth and Greta gaining a reputation as a good baker resulted from long hours of community and church group service. When fund raising was needed, women like Elizabeth and Greta went to work. Both wives and mothers, Elizabeth and Greta knew each other well as they did most in the small community.

Main street Doaktown, NB c. 1909 Photo courtesy of the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick Miscellaneous Post card collection Image # P46-54

Greta and Elizabeth share deep roots in the Miramichi region of New Brunswick, their settler families were primarily from Scotland, Ireland, and England. Settlers drawn by the promise of the areas natural resources, timber, and fish. Blackville, located on the Southwest Branch of the Miramichi River was settled first by Davidson settlers prior to the Revolutionary war and became a business center and mill town in the 1850’s.

Bridge and Mill at Blackville, C. 1930s Photo courtesy of the Our Miramichi Heritage Family FB site.

It is common to see raisins in fruit cake recipes, along with the candied cherries and fruit peel. Fruit cake which has been in existence for hundreds if not thousands of years, was banned for a considerable period in Britain. Dried and preserved foods of all sorts were a practical reality during Eastern Canadian winters, when dried berries, meat, and fish were staple. So it is not surprising that during the Victorian period when Fruit Cakes began appearing as Christmas treats (encouraged by the festive green and red cherries) Eastern Canadians were quick to assume it as Christmas tradition.

Elizabeth Moody’s Sultana cake is a ‘light’ fruit cake. Many fruit cake recipes are very fruit dense and the cake merely a vehicle to deliver the fruit. This cake is rich, moist and delicious on its own, with the fruit it is one of the best fruit cakes I have ever eaten.

So, how did it come that Elizabeth Moody’s recipe made its way in to the collection… Greta, despite being almost 20 years Mum’s senior, was a good friend and neighbour. Greta and her husband Freeman lived across the street from our family home, for the 17 years or so our family lived there. For many of those years, Greta and Mum met at least 3 times a week for a cuppa and chat. Usually, Mum would ‘just run over to Greta’s’ when she had a few minutes and there was an older sibling about to keep an eye on me, the youngest. Occasionally, I would accompany Mum, to visit Greta, which I loved. I recall vividly those visits, and the cat clock which hung on Greta’s kitchen wall. The eyes tracking left and right, tale swinging right to left. Fascinating to my child mind and a great diversion as the two women chatted.

Blackville, NB train station c. 1890

One morning just before our family left Blackville in July of 1967, Greta invited Mum for a chat. Several times over the years of their friendship, the subject of Elizabeth’s Sultana Cake came up in their discussions, usually after one or the other had attended an event where the cake had appeared. Greta and Mum were avid bakers, and good friends. It surprised Mum to learn that Greta had the recipe, in fact had had it for some time. Greta who’d been sworn to secrecy by Elizabeth had spent considerable time agonizing whether to share the recipe with Mum. Now that Mum was leaving and knowing how much Mum enjoyed the cake she’d decided to break her promise to Elizabeth and share it with Mum. Mum kept to the strict promise she made to Greta. The cake remained ‘special’ it appeared only at Christmas, she never made it for any other purpose. Only after Elizabeth’s death in 1991 did I get my first copy of the recipe. I guess you can say friendship brought this recipe in to the My Mother’s Cookbooks Collection.

Elizabeth Moody’s Sultana Cake

Ingredients:
1 cup butter room temperature
1 1/2 cup white sugar
3 eggs at room temperature
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1tsp lemon extract
1 tsp vanilla
1tsp almond extract
3 cups sifted flour, divided
1 cup warm milk
1 pkg white raisins (~ 11/2 cups)
1 pkg cherries (~1 cup)
1 pkg mixed peel and mixed fruit(~1 cup)

Method:
1. Preheat over to 250 degrees F. Grease and flour two 9 inch x 5 inch x 3 inch loaf pans and set aside;
2. Cream butter and sugar until light in colour, add well beaten eggs and mix to combine;
3. Add lemon, vanilla and almond stir to combine;
4. In a separate bowl sift 2 1/2 cups of the flour, baking powder together and set aside;
5. Alternate adding the flour mix and milk, being careful not to over beat;
6. Dust fruit with the remaining flour and add to the cake batter, mix to combine;
7. Divide the batter evenly between the pans and place in the oven for 2 hours or until tester inserted in to the center of the cake comes out clean.

Elizabeth Maud Walls Moody
Born 22 April 1895, was the oldest child of Justus Walls and Elizabeth Ann Astle Walls. In 1912 at age 17 years, Elizabeth married Wilmot Moody and settled in Blackville to raise their family. Elizabeth and Wilmot had two children before Wilmot’s untimely death in 1923. Elizabeth raised their two children on her own, never remarrying. She lived in Blackville until her death in 1991.

Greta Myrtle Vickers Sturgeon
was born 16 Aug 1911 to Thomas Vickers and Lucinda Maud Astle. On 14 December 1927, Greta married Freeman Ernest Sturgeon. Freeman and Greta raised their 9 children in Blackville. Greta died in 1994, Freeman a year later.

T.C. Millar house, Derby, Northumberland County New Brunswick, C. 1892 Photo courtesy of Miramichi Historical Society Collection Provincial Archives of New Brunswick Image # P204-261

Explanations and References:
1. Sultana raisins are a variety of raisin, dried from white grapes of particular varieties. The term ‘Sultana’ was once used to refer to ‘raisin’ generally.

8 thoughts on “Friends, Fruit and Sultana Cake

  1. I love the story behind this cake. I’m going to make it even though a lot of my family are not fruitcake fans. Perhaps this recipe will win them over. Thanks fir sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for the story and the memories from Christmas past .my mum made the Fruit cakes both Dark and Light along with many other treats..the cakes sat for weeks in the Basement cellar cabinet oh to enjoy the days of Christmas past.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What a nice story about that lady’s life. It’s a privilege plus a real gift for her lovely recipes. We all need uplifting stories like that these days. Thank you so kindly for sharing. Her recipes is worth a fortune.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I love sultana cake but haven’t had it for years.This one sounds wonderful & the fact that the ladies named in your story have Astle in their names makes it more special. This name is in my family as well. I don’t bake anymore but I have a daughter that’s great at it.

    Liked by 1 person

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