My grandmother’s cake

My grandmother with a photo of my siblings and me - Christmas 1980

Food is a powerful force in our lives. We have to eat frequently or suffer. We gather over meals. We use meals to celebrate. We have consumed so many meals in our lives that it is no wonder we develop strong associations both good and ill with many foods. Food remains a central part of hospitality.


I had a very strong relationship with my grandparents. They were a source of creative energy and comfort throughout my life and served me many meals and culinary treasures like this one. The example of hospitality they set is one that I try to emulate in my life.

This is, of course, not really my grandmother’s cake, as we ate the last of that long before she died, but a cake made faithfully by her oldest grandson (me) from her recipe. As the recipe says, it was a rich, dark cake. And, although such things have their haters, nearly everyone in the family liked this one.

I had always meant to make it with my grandmother some year and get the sense of it from her, but I never did. However, I ate a lot of it over the years and I think this is as close as anyone can get to someone else’s recipe. I got the basic recipe from my aunt, who had transcribed it in grade 4 for a classroom cookbook:

Here Keith, in my Grade 4, nine year old, handwriting (circa 1959) is mom’s recipe.

The very last two lines are missing from page 2 when scanned.

Bake 3-4 hours at 275-300 degrees.   Mom used to use these round tins with removable bottoms … can you visualize what I mean ?

I think it lovely that you want to keep up the tradition of her cakes.  My god the ingredients must cost a fortune these days !!!

Much love, Auntie S.

My grandmother made this cake for my wedding to Beth in 1990 and I think did the same for a few other family members as well. As she arrived at our wedding, she was horrified to discover that after baking it and covering it with marzipan, the bakery she had entrusted to do the final icing and decorating had misspelled my name. Hilarious. My mother-in-law did a little surgery with a knife and remedied the situation.


I have changed nothing significant in the recipe. I reorganized it a bit and made a few things clearer. Just cosmetic changes that make the recipe easier to follow when you’re in a hurry. Yes, there are a hell of a lot of raisins.

I dose it with rum every few days. I’m pretty sure she never did that, but I like it and others seem to as well. I’m sure Grandma would approve. Drop by for a slice sometime.

Rich, Dark Christmas Cake

Marion Nunn


  • 1 1/2 lb. sultana raisins
  • 1 lb. seeded raisins
  • 1 lb. seedless raisins
  • 1 lb. currants
  • 1/2 lb. candied cherries
  • 1/2 lb. dates, chopped
  • 1/2 lb. candied pineapple, chopped
  • 3/4 lb. mixed chopped peel and citron
  • 1/2 lb. sliced or slivered almonds
  • 3 1/2 cups cake and pastry flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 1/2 tsp ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1 lb. butter
  • 1 lb. white or brown sugar
  • 12 eggs
  • 1/2 cup jam, jelly, or fruit juice (maybe rum?)
  • 2 tsp vanilla


In the morning take the butter out and let it warm all day. At some point, line the pans with greased paper.

Wash and drain fruit, mix with nuts and peel.

Measure flour and sift with salt and spices over fruit and nuts.

In a separate bowl, cream butter until very soft and gradually blend in sugar, beating until fluffy after each addition.

Add eggs and beat until very light.

Add jam, jelly or fruit juice and vanilla to creamed butter and sugar.

Combine this mixture with dry ingredients and mix thoroughly.

Bake 3-4 hours at 275-300°F in spring form or other releasable pans.