Fruitcakes have a bad reputation because many people find them dry, tasteless and chock full of artificially colored and flavored “fruit” ingredients.   I was  among the anti-fruitcake group, until my beloved introduced me to his recipe,  that originated from Juanita Neilands, the wife of his doctoral adviser, the biochemist Joe Neilands at UC Berkeley.   They’re completely natural, which is consistent with their popularity in the hippie era of the San Francisco Bay area.   Each year Juanita and friends would bake a big bunch of these incredible cakes and distribute them to each of Joe’s lab members.

The remarkable man Joe Neilands passed away a little over a year ago at age 87.  He was an outstanding scientist and political activist, a true free-spirit.   You can read about him here.   In our current lab we still continue the research that he began  decades ago, and in our kitchen we still bake this favorite fruitcake, “an old Southern family recipe”.

(from Juanita Neilands, an old Southern family recipe)

1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup flour
4 eggs
1 T vanilla
1/2 cup white grape juice
1 t baking powder
1 lb pitted, chopped dates (unsugared)
(or 1/2 lb dates + 1/2 lb mixed dried fruits of your choice)
1/2 lb dried apricots, chopped
1 lb pecans, chopped
3/4 lb walnuts, chopped (about 3 cups)
optional:  Tawny Port wine

Beat the eggs and sugar together.  If you can only find chopped dates that are coated with sugar, then reduce the sugar by 2 T. Mix in the flour and baking powder, then add vanilla and grape juice.  Dust the dates and apricots with flour, add them to the batter, then add the chopped nuts.    The batter will seem very dry, do not worry about it.

Prepare six mini-loaf pans by greasing them with butter.  Line with 2 layers of parchment paper, greasing each layer.   Spoon the batter into each pan, and decorate the cakes with half walnuts or pecans on top.

Bake at 350F for 50 minutes to 1 hour, and remove the loaves from pans as soon as you can touch the cake.  Remove the parchment paper, and put cakes on a rack over a pan.  Pour Tawny port (or brandy or bourbon), about 2 T each,  over the fruitcakes and and allow them to cool.  Add more Port later, if you desire, and wrap for storage.   Enjoy the cake right away,  or store for several months, if Port wine (or brandy) is added.

Happy Holidays!

to print the recipe, click here

This post will be my first submission to “Bread Baking Day”, this month’s theme is “Baking Under the Tree

for step by step photos and comments, read on….

These fruitcakes are a lot of fun to make!  There’s something about the mini-loaf format, that sets any recipe off on a good note, because they are simply too cute… 😉

Here they are, lined up, ready for duty!

Mis-en-place makes life a lot easier… plus, it sounds great, nothing like some French words to make one feel like a serious cook..

The cake batter and the dried ingredients will seem very dry once mixed together, but as I mentioned in the recipe, don’t worry, it will all have a tasty happy ending…

After spooning the batter in, a few nuts added on top, and into the oven they go…

These fruit cakes are very rich, so make sure to cut them into thin slices.   A little bit goes a long way…


  1. hi sally and welcome to BBD!
    your fruitcake is really gorgeous and so rich, definetely a queen among the cakes!
    hope you will be joining and share other “old recipes” in the future with us.
    my best and warm wishes for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!


  2. I know this is an old post and it is out of season but I have just discovered your blog (via Zeb Bakes) and it caught my eye when browsing through the index. What size (measurements) are your mini loaf tins? Love your blog. Thank you.


    • Kitty, I am going NUTS trying to find those mini loaf tins. Nuts. I know we did not discard them when we moved – I searched all the obvious places last night, but I promise to do a more thorough job as soon as possible. I know they must be in some well “protected” place (sigh). Moving: not for sissies.


  3. Here I am, finally! Found them! Happy ending!

    The bottom length of the pan measures 4 + 3/4 inches. The tin flares up a little so the length measured on top is 5 + 1/2 inches.

    Height: 2 inches

    Width: bottom measure a little more than 2 inches. top measure 2 + 3/4 inches

    HOpe this helps!


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