Christmas Cupcakes and Railway Trivia

Recipies: Gingerbread Cupcakes and Northern Pacific Dark Fruitcake Cupcakes

I’m a little late with this post in every way – not only am I posting a fruitcake recipe just a few days before Christmas, but it turns out that National Cupcake day was last week. Who knew?

I know a lot of people out there are over cupcakes – but I’m still into it, even though I hardly ever make my own – there’s not a lot of incentive, frankly, with Cupcake Royale less than a mile away. But cupcakes make a great holiday gift, in ones and twos, or by the tray. No utensils or formality required. And if you don’t frost them, you can even pass them off as breakfast.

Gingerbread and fruitcake are two of my favorite holiday flavors. My gingerbread recipe – which is an adaptation of Mimi Sheraton’s Old Fashioned Dark Gingerbread, from Visions of Sugarplums, is something I relish every December; I’ve made it as loaf, a sheet cake, a bundt, and even as a layer cake. It is a dark rich gingerbread, and a recipe that I think is enhanced by whole wheat flour.

The fruitcake recipe has a little more history to it.

Almost all the men in my mother’s family worked for the Northern Pacific Railway – one of the original transcontinental carriers. Trainmen, engineers, switchmen, and a yard master; her grandfather, her father, her uncles and her husband – my Dad. They all had dining car favorites – special food recalled from an age when travel, elegance and flavor went hand in hand. Dad could talk for 10 minutes about the prime rib – and believe me, he wasn’t a foodie of any kind.

The most famous food to come out of the dining car was the “Great Big Baked Potato” – no kidding, the potato even had its own song. But another tradition a lot of NP families remember is the Northern Pacific Fruitcake – sold by the cake and the slice every year during the holidays. It was before my time – I was two years old when the Northern Pacific disappeared in a merger and the last dinning car was decommissioned.

Mom had a recipe for the cake, clipped from a union newsletter, but my parents said it wasn’t the same. So when I stumbled across a copy of Dinning Car Line to the Pacific, by William McKenzie – a book that details the history (and recipes!) of the NP dining cars, of course I had to have it. And the book contains not one, but two recipes for NP fruit cakes – neither of which match the one in my mother’s notebook. My version is an adaptation of the “dark” fruitcake. I use whole wheat flour, dried fruit, rather than the candied stuff, and I don’t always bother to age it.

I’ll never know if it’s true to the original – but both these cupcakes are a great holiday treats.


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