The Christmas Cake Brainwave

It is said that necessity is the mother of invention – don’t I know this to be true! Between the years 1991 and 2008, I had children of school going age. Over a period of seven years, all three of my children were simultaneously at school. Now you can only imagine, the end of year draws near and the challenge of teachers’ gifts becomes all too real! 

What to do? Three children, times by X amount of teachers and boarding school staff (both male and female) would certainly add up! An uncomplicated, universal, versatile gift was needed! 

I had been baking my favourite Christmas Cake hand-me-down recipe for ourselves and close family each festive season for a few years. This festive fruitcake looked stunning when decorated with nuts and cherries, and glazed with melted apricot jam as inspired by The Blue Ribbon Book of Beautiful Baking, by Shelley Stevenson and Sharon Shirley. 

Then, an inspired brainwave! Just add a wrapping of clear cellophane, some Christmas ribbon and a handwritten note of gratitude on a Christmas card - the perfect Christmas gift!

Christmas dried fruit mix can be rather pricey, thus giving each teacher a gift of a 20 cm size cake would prove more expensive than purchasing gifts. So I purchased two 9 inch round tins, and voila! The cake mixture quantity divided perfectly into two - one recipe, two cakes, two gifts. Killing two birds with one stone (no pun intended) this Christmas Cake became the winner of all gifts!

I’d hit on a great idea, however, considering the sheer number of these cakes I’d have to make each year, it would probably take me until the following Easter before I got them done! So I enlisted the help of MaCynth, teaching her how to do the job of Christmas Cake baking as gifts. Within no time, our family’s wonderful domestic chef was churning out 30 to 40 of these ‘mini’ Christmas Cakes each year! Baking, decorating and wrapping, leaving them all lined up on top of my kitchen cupboards ready for despatch towards the end of the fourth school term. Our farmhouse kitchen was the fruitcake equivalent of Santa’s toy factory at the North Pole!

This annual baking marathon began in October each year, as the cakes need very little aging. These gifts were such a hit that certain recipients even began dropping hints for the next year’s cake long before Christmas each year!

MaCynth left our employ about two years ago, as her husband relocated to Ixopo. In no time, SisSbongile had stepped from her gardening shoes into MaCynth’s well-seasoned baking ones, following with ease in her footsteps! This year, SisSbongile made in excess of thirty cakes, assisted by MaMargaret, SisPhumzile and MaMtolo who all joined together to decorate row upon row of cakes! 

The Ken Stone family has kept up the Christmas Cake gifting tradition for many years now, subsequent to our children leaving school. The teachers’ loss has become the gain of the wonderful professional people who serve our family and business with caring, friendly, ‘going the extra mile’ professionalism. Our thank you gift for services rendered for going beyond the mere call of duty, which is so very much appreciated in the hurried and impersonal world of today.

A serendipitous tradition birthed out of necessity, my amazing domestic chefs have turned these out year after year. The humble, hearty Christmas Cake has served us so well! So much more than a pudding, this cake is a Stone institution. 

Useful Resources: 

  • The Blue Ribbon Book of Beautiful Baking, by Shelley Stevenson and Sharon Shirley, printed in 1987 (Does the name ring a bell to anyone? I am sure many a housewife has this amazingly-illustrated and useful baking book, a possibly long-forgotten cooking companion, sitting on their bookshelves! It’s worth digging out and revisiting for fresh inspiration, despite its age.)
  • Foodpak in Pietermaritzburg (www.foodpak.co.za) is a great source of bake ware and ingredients.