Many years ago, the Missions Commission of the New Richmond United Methodist Church used to sell pecans and fruitcakes from Koinonia Farm in Americus, Georgia. Koinonia was founded in 1942 by two couples, Clarence and Florence Jordan and Martin and Mabel England, who wished to live according to the gospel of Jesus. They shared a vision of a community where blacks and whites could live together in Christian love.
They first sold farm produce to support themselves, but white businesses and governmental agents boycotted and harassed them and forced Koinonia to find another way to generate the modest funds they needed. Thus began a mail order business selling pecans from their groves as well as other products made on the farm. They have an online store today.
In the 1950‘s and 60‘s Koinonia was attacked repeatedly, but the people remained true to the principles of non-violence. They endured gunshots fired into their homes, the bombing of their produce stand, threatening phone calls and letters, demonstrations by the Ku Klux Klan and pressure from the local Chamber of Commerce that they sell up and leave.
Despite the threats and attacks, Koinonia Farm survived, and in the late 1960’s Koinonia Farm changed its name and became Koinonia Partners. With Millard and Linda Fuller, who had once lived a month at Koinonia, Clarence Jordan and other Koinonia partners founded Koinonia Partnership Housing which later became Habitat for Humanity.
One of the most famous supporters of Koinonia and Habitat for Humanity is former President Jimmy Carter. Since 1984, he and his wife, Rosalynn, have helped build homes and raise funds for what has become an international non-profit organization with affiliates in New Richmond and around the world.
Today you can still buy hickory smoked pecans made in the original smokehouse built by Clarence Jordan at Koinonia Farm, but the wonderful fruitcakes are no longer listed in the online store. What I especially liked about those fruitcakes was the fact that they consisted primarily of nuts and fruits. When the ladies in our church stopped selling the fruitcake I liked, I was forced to bake my own. I found a recipe that is as good or even better than the ones we used to buy from Koinonia.
It was in a cookbook, Historic Cedarhurst Shares Favorite Recipes, a gift to Jerri from Mildred “Millie” Jorgensen many years ago. Millie gave our children their first piano lessons and Jay, her husband, kept the kids well fed with the cookies he baked. Though Cedarhurst is in Cottage Grove, Minnesota, the recipe was contributed by Edith Martell of Somerset, Wisconsin, so that makes it a local recipe and even more special to me.
If you like plenty of nuts and fruits in your fruitcake, you will probably like this one. I have been making it for the last twenty years or so, and it has a lot more fans than foes. The secret is to make it at least a month before you serve it so the flavors can meld and the rum can soften the nuts and fruits.
Cutting the dates and pineapple rings takes a little time, but you can have this cake in the oven in well under an hour.
4 cups walnut halves
1 1/2 cups pitted dates, halved
1 1/2 cups whole candied red cherries
1 1/2 cups candied pineapple
1/2 to 3/4 cup candied orange peel
1 cup plus 2 T sifted flour
1 cup plus 2 T sugar
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 T vanilla extract
1 T rum flavoring
1/4 cup dark rum plus more for soaking
Cheesecloth for wrapping the cakes
Preheat the oven to 275º.
Cut the dates in half lengthwise and the pineapple rings into bite-sized pieces. Mix the fruit and nuts in a large bowl. Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt over them and stir well.
Beat the eggs until lemon colored, then beat in the vanilla and rum extracts and the rum. Stir the liquid into the dry ingredients. Line a 9” x 13” baking pan with wax or parchment paper and grease it with butter. Scrape the batter into the pan and spread it evenly. Bake the cake on the lower rack of the oven at 275º for 1 1/2 hours.
Remove the cake from the oven and let it cool a few minutes. Put a sheet of wax paper on a flat surface. Remove the cake from the pan by tipping it upside down on the waxed paper. Let the cake cool another half hour or so, then carefully remove the waxed paper from the cake. Cover the cake with wax paper or a towel and allow it to finish cooling.
When the cake is completely cool, cut it into eight pieces, wrap each piece with cheesecloth and soak each piece with rum by rolling the cheesecloth-wrapped pieces in a saucer of rum. Wrap the pieces tightly in aluminum foil and store them at least a month in an airtight container before serving.
NOTES: If you store the pieces longer than a couple of months, you should open the foil and sprinkle each cake with more rum from time to time. Fruitcake keeps very well. You can enjoy last year’s cake while you are making the one for this Christmas.
Since Koinonia Farm was started by Baptist ministers, I’m pretty sure that their fruitcakes were not made with rum, but you need it for this recipe. Come to think of it, maybe that’s why this fruitcake is even better than theirs.