Helen’s Orange Fruitcake

When Pearl told me about this recipe, I was a little skeptical: Orange slice candy in a cake? You may ask yourself the same question, but after making and eating this version of a holiday fruitcake, I am happy to recommend it.

I still prefer my Four in One Fruitcake, but Helen’s Orange Fruitcake is an excellent alternative for people who don’t like traditional fruitcake with lots of nuts and candied fruits. As one wit wrote, “It is a good fruitcake for people who don’t want any fruit in their fruitcake.” Of course, it does have dates, which are fruits.

We liked the cake, but seemed a little dry to me. I wanted to make sure that I had not overbaked the smaller cakes, so I shared samples with three of our neighbors. They all said they thought it was delicious. After trying the cake I gave her, Pearl called to say that it was exactly like it was supposed to be.

If I can make it on the first try, so can you. Here how to do it.


For the cake:
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup butter
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
4 cups all-purpose flour plus a little to help mix the fruit
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 lb. dates
1 lb. orange slices
1 cup flaked coconut
2 cups chopped walnuts or pecans

For the glaze:
1 cup orange juice (fresh or from frozen concentrate)
1 lb. powdered sugar (2 to 3 cups)


Cream the butter and shortening with the sugar in a medium mixing bowl, then incorporate the eggs one at a time and stir in the buttermilk. Sift the flour and baking soda by cupfuls into the sugar and egg mixture to make a rather thick batter.

Preheat the oven to 225º and grease and flour three five by seven-inch loaf pans or more smaller loaf pans that will hold a total of about three and a half quarts of batter.

Chop the dates and nuts and orange slices fine. Put them in a large mixing bowl along with the flake coconut. Sprinkle with a little flour and mix to blend the ingredients evenly. Pour the batter over the fruits, candy and nuts and mix with your hands to blend all the ingredients.

Distribute the batter evenly into the three prepared pans and bake for three hours at 225º. If using smaller loaf pans, reduce the baking time and test for doneness with a toothpick inserted into the center of the smaller cakes after two hours. If the toothpick comes out clean, the cakes are done.

Shortly before the cakes are ready to come from the oven, make the glaze by mixing the orange juice and powdered sugar.

Take the cakes from the oven and allow them to cool slightly for five minutes. Pour the glaze evenly over the hot cakes and leave them in the pans until completely cool. Remove the cakes from the pans, wrap them with plastic film and refrigerate them for at least three days before serving.

NOTES: Pearl says that this is a very sweet but very good cake. Cut thin slices for serving. It is an old family recipe from her neighbor Helen.

You may need to add a little more buttermilk to get the batter to the right consistency. It should be thick but fluid enough to spread out over the dry ingredients as you scrape it into the bowl.

If you bought shredded rather than flaked coconut by mistake, don’t panic. Shredded coconut works just fine.

This cake continues to improve for at least two weeks. The last few slices we ate were delicious.

Summer Cooler

You don’t know how good buttermilk tastes until you have climbed a mile up a mountainside on a hot day. Despite our lack of hiking shoes, a friend and I had decided to see what Bad Reichenhall, Germany, looked like from Austria. It was 1965 and we were studying conversational German in that small German city. We crossed a footbridge over the creek that marked the border and started up the mountain.

It was an easy walk through open space on the edge of town. There were no signs, fences or guards, but once we had walked over the footbridge, we felt like world travelers. To be honest, Austria was pretty much like Germany, but it was the fourth country I had set foot in, the first three being the USA, Canada and Germany.

While there were no guards, there was someone watching us from a spot several hundred feet above us near a small building in the pasture. We began wondering if it was really wise to walk in someone else’s pasture without permission and briefly considered making a run for it back to the safety of the city. But we were young and confident that we could talk our way through any problem.

Though we were perhaps a bit too confident in our conversational German, we did manage to explain to the old lady overseeing her cows that we were American students at the Goethe Institute who just wanted to enjoy the view of the city from her beautiful pasture. She smiled and told us that we were welcome.

She could see that we were hot and thirsty and asked us if we would like “ein Becher Buttermilch” (a cup of buttermilk). We both said we would. She stood up from the bench she was sitting on, wiped her hands on her apron and went into the shed which we recognized as a spring house. A minute later she came out with two stoneware mugs that must have held a pint each.

How generous of her, we thought, until she said, “Funfzig Pfennig jedes” (fifty cents each). We would have paid more. The buttermilk was cold and delicious, with little bits of butter floating in it. It was so good, in fact, that we made the climb twice more over the next month and had a chance to learn a little about her. Among other things, we learned that she sold her buttermilk to lots of hikers and her butter to a shopkeeper in Salzburg.

Today much of the pasture is covered with a housing development, and hikers who want a glass of buttermilk need to find a different lady on a mountainside.

There are, of course, a few people who say that they don’t like buttermilk. Here is a way to overcome that prejudice. A student from Texas introduced Jerri to this recipe when she was a house fellow in Slichter Hall at the University of Wisconsin. It sounds odd, but it is delicious and refreshing. Here’s what you do.




Put two scoops of sherbet in a tall glass. Add ice cold buttermilk. Stir gently with an iced tea spoon. Enjoy like a root beer float with less sugar.

NOTES: Orange and raspberry sherbets are our favorites, but you can use any flavor you like. As an option, serve a scoop of sherbet covered with three or four tablespoons of buttermilk for a light dessert.