I always say that I consider myself one lucky chef. I have a lot of holiday traditions that I carry-on each year with my family and I try to pass them down to the later generations.
By JASPER J. MIRABILE JR.
One of those traditions is enjoying a slice of fruitcake every Christmas. I still remember as a child, my father slicing a rum-soaked fruitcake and enjoying it after dinner with a glass of Port wine amongst friends and family. I surely considered myself lucky to sit with the adults and enjoy a slice. I won’t lie, I also sneaked myself a few sips of Port wine and got my rum cake right in the glass.
This year I considered myself very lucky once again as I arrived home this past week and found in my mail my Assumption Abbey fruitcake. To some people this would not be a very big deal, but to me, it just made my holiday.
As a matter of fact, I truly love everything local and Assumption Abbey fruitcakes are truly local as they are produced right here in Missouri.
Some 25 years ago, the Cistercian Trappist Monks of Assumption Abbey, decided to start producing fruitcakes in order to make enough money to maintain their quiet monastic lifestyle. Assumption Abbey is located near Ava, Mo., nestled in the foothills of the Missouri Ozarks. The monks of Assumption Abbey produce 125 fruitcakes a day and a total of almost 25,000 of their delicious creations per year.
This past week I had the honor of interviewing Assumption Abbey’s Father Cyprian on my ‘Live! From Jasper’s Kitchen’ radio show, with my co-host Kimberly Winter Stern. I was prepared with a lot of questions and Cyprian was a wonderful guest, very enthusiastic, and very knowledgeable about their wonderful fruitcakes. I truly owe Kimberly a big hug for setting up this interview.
Now, about these fruitcakes. Only eight monks, tirelessly and lovingly work at producing these cakes each day, we were told. The task begins early each morning, when one of the monks begins cracking 265 eggs. The monks then make the fruitcake batter and after baking and turning the cakes out of the pans, they inject each cake with over 1 ounce of rum and then soak them in corn syrup.
The fruit, that have been soaking in burgundy wine, has already been baked into the cakes, but the final touch is when one of the monks places exactly 4 pecan halves and four cherry halves, strategically on top of each cake. It is only after this task, that the monks lovingly gather and pray over each fruitcake:
O God, creator of all things, bless now these creations of our hands.
That these cakes may be received as tokens of your love,
And shared with friends, as hints of your Eucharistic feast.
We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ incarnate in our midst.
Assumption Abbey produces a very dark and rich traditional fruitcake. Everything is done on the premises, from marinating the fruit, to mixing and baking the fruitcakes, to packaging and aging, to actually mailing the fruitcakes from the monastery.
Cyprian explained to us that Assumption Abbey is not a commercial enterprise, rather it has become a way of life and that way of life, combined with the careful work of their bakers,and each monks sharing of their dedication to high-quality, makes Assumption Abbey fruitcake among the country’s finest.
Each moist fruitcake weighs almost two pounds, but there is more to the story than what meets the eye.
When Assumption Abbey was first developing it’s bakery, the monks sought the help of the world-class chef Jean-Pierre Auge, who was in the employ of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. He helped develop the recipe that is now a treasured part of the every day life of these monks and their special fruitcakes that have become loved by hundreds of thousands of people worldwide.
The recipe has not changed since 1988. Assumption Abbey fruitcakes are proof of just how delicious a fruitcake can be. Each cake receives individual attention from start to finish, using the finest ingredients of pure butter, fresh eggs, raisins, pineapples, currents, citron, walnuts, cherries, rum and burgundy wine.
The monks even make it a special part of the daily routine, when wrapping each individual fruitcake. Cyprian told us that when he wraps the fruitcakes, it’s like wrapping a newborn baby as he places his signature “cross wrap” on the bottom of each cake. Talk about detail and dedication. These monks not only love what they do, but have found a way to support themselves and have garnered such a great following across America, that this year the fruitcakes were sold out before Dec. 1.
But don’t worry my friends, it is not too late to get your Assumption Abbey fruitcake. You can order them online at amazon.com or purchase one at Williams-Sonoma on the Country Club Plaza, or at Leawood’s Town Plaza. They sell for anywhere from $32-$40 each.
I suggest you pick up one as soon as possible, and enjoy the taste of this delicious product, locally made, right herein Missouri. Buy one for your own home to share with family and one to send to a friend, so they too can enjoy this wonderful tradition of the Cistercian Trappist monks of Assumption Abbey.
And finally, Cyprian had one thing to say about all those rumors about regifting fruitcakes — it’s not true. That was a joke that goes way back to the days of the Johnny Carson Show on NBC, as Cyprian claims that everyone he knows who receives an Assumption Abbey fruitcake, truly enjoys the taste, realizing the loving dedication and tradition that goes into each cake made .
Hey, I have to believe that statement. I mean seriously, it did come from a monk and I not only respect Cyprian, but I also love, love, love his fruitcake!
Chef Jasper J. Mirabile Jr. of Jasper’s commands the helm of his family’s 59-year-old restaurant, consistently rated one of Kansas City’s best Italian restaurants. In addition to running the restaurant with his brother, Mirabile is a culinary instructor, founding member of Slow Food Kansas City and a national board member of the American Institute of Wine and Food. He hosts many famous chefs on his weekly radio show Live! From Jasper’s Kitchen on KCMO 710 AM and 103.7 FM and sells a line of dressings and sauces.