Fruitcake has long been the butt of American jokes: well understood as the worst gift one could receive, useful only as a doorstop. Looking at most store-bought American fruitcakes though, it’s hard to mount a defense. They are the albino version of their ancestor: wan, miserly in fruit and nuts, and pocked by unnatural neon red and green maraschino cherries. In contrast, a proper fruitcake is a noble beast, dark and rich, dense with more fillings than flour. Christmas fruitcakes are a tipsy rum-fueled party attended by a throng of citrus peels, fruit and nuts. Sarah Peppercorn-Janes and Patty Martin of The English Cousins have been making fruitcakes, Christmas cakes and puddings for years in Middletown. Their successful seasonal business serves expats looking for a taste of the homeland and perhaps gaining the odd turncoat along the way. You can purchase their cakes and puddings online for delivery or arrange local pickup, as well as buy some of their offerings at Clements Market in Portsmouth and June Love’s English Bakery in Middletown.
You are actually cousins, right? What do you do the rest of the year, and what made you decide to add on this seasonal business?
Yes, we really are cousins from England. We both do private chef work, sometimes together, sometimes on our own either in private houses or on charter yachts.
We started making Christmas puddings several years ago for friends and family because we yearned for a traditional Christmas pudding, which was hard to find over here. A couple of years ago a friend suggested that we should have a website, which she would do for us. Since then we have steadily grown the business, which now consists of 85% mail order.
I know some of the old-school recipes for Christmas pudding involved burying it for months.
Our grandmother used to make them one year to be served the next, that way they developed a rich flavor. Ours are not that old, but will keep well for a long time in a cool dry place.
When does Christmas baking season start for you?
We start baking in October and go through December, with a cutoff date a week before the 25th to guarantee delivery for Christmas. We end up making about 1,000 pounds of cake of three sizes: 4-, 6- and 8- inch.
I’m sure you won’t tell me your secret recipe, but roughly how do you make the perfect Christmas pudding?
The Christmas puddings take two days to make; the first day is just soaking all the dried fruit and apple in Guinness and rum. Then they are mixed together and put into pudding basins to be steamed for six hours; traditionally the whole family gets to stir the pudding mix and make a wish. The pudding is served hot with rum or brandy poured over it, lit and brought flaming to the table! [It’s] accompanied by brandy butter (hard sauce) and fresh cream.
Are a lot of your customers expats looking for their old fruity friend?
Our cakes and puddings are shipped all over the United States as well as around the world to such countries as Australia, New Zealand, India, France, Canada, Turkey, The West Indies, Central America and even the United Kingdom. The expats that seek out our cakes and puddings are not just British but from past Commonwealth countries. Because of the Royal Icing, which sets up hard, the cakes ship and keep very well, if they are not eaten. We have been amazed at the diversity of our customers and how they find us through our website.
What goes into one of your cakes? Where do you get all your fruit and peels from?
Our Christmas fruit cakes are super moist, rich and delicious with a liberal dose of rum added and our special blend of spices which adds a unique flavor. We don’t use those scary bright green and fluorescent cherries featured in traditional American fruitcakes, just orange and lemon candied peel from Florida, without high fructose corn syrup and artificial coloring. In fact, we try and source most of ingredients locally and buy within Rhode Island.
The English Cousins
English Christmas Cakes and Puddings
401-662-2066 / 401-787-8967