Brandied Fruit

You have to wonder if the people who passed this around really didn’t know what it was.

Let’s jump right into an explanation from the January 9, 1973 edition of the Albuquerque Tribune, which covers the local story of a woman who had a jar of the fruit supposedly from the same place:

Ready for giving–Sweet and rich and delicious! Brandied Fruit helps Juanita Bradbury make friends wherever she goes.

It’s a perfect hostess gift. With Brandied Fruit on hand, you’ll never worry about a quick dessert again.

According to Juanita, the starter originally came from Kirbyville in East Texas. It travels well. Juanita got hers in New York and she’s given it to people who have traveled to Florida.

When the Air Force transferred her husband, Skip, to Albuquerque, Juanita put her crock in a plastic bag, set it in a box and headed off cross country.

Unlike other kinds of Brandied Fruit, Juanita’s doesn’t call for any brandy–or any liquor at all for that matter.

You must have at least 1-1/2 cups of starter, from a friend. Then you just add a cup of fruit and a cup of sugar every two weeks.

Stir it a few times to dissolve the sugar, put on the lid and let the starter go to work.

Whatever magical ingredient is in the starter (a chemist friend of Juanita’s thinks it’s baking soda), I can attest to the fact that the fruit has a delightful sweet, brandish taste.

First of all, brandy-ish is not brandish. The only person who brandishes taste is Miley Cyrus.

Second, on the heart of the matter, I have a hard time believing that nobody who got this “magic” potion could conceive of why adding fruit and sugar to a jar, then waiting, would result in fruit that tastes like liquor. Juanita’s scientist friend who guessed baking soda was either having some fun with her or lived a very sheltered existence.

In fact, we’ve talked about a recipe with similar ingredients: hooch. Fruit, plus sugar, plus yeast, plus time, equals wine.

If you take that wine and distill the resulting alcohol, you get liquor. The flavor of the liquor is the flavor of fruit (or grain) that went into it. Here, let’s let our friend Tim from Virginia explain a bit more of the process for making America’s own homegrown white corn whiskey (or moonshine, if you prefer):

The specific instructions are necessary because it’s easy for things to go wrong if you’re not careful.

If you leave the jar for too long without adding new sugar or fruit, the yeast will ultimately convert the sugar to alcohol and then die off, basically starving to death. The fruit that’s there will be pretty alcoholic, but adding new fruit won’t perpetuate the same fermentation. On the other hand, if you add too much fruit at once, or leave too much fruit in there for too long, it’ll turn sour.

A quick note about sour wine–sometimes people colloquially say that wine turns into vinegar. That’s not strictly true most of the time–wine only turns into vinegar when Acetobacter bacteria converts the alcohol into acetic acid. You should be so lucky to have your wine turn into vinegar. You can use the sour wine for things, it’s true, but the fact that you can ride a zebra to work doesn’t make it a Honda.

Here’s another mention from the June 12, 1974 Tucson Daily Citizen:

Fruit compote a century old

By Barbara Barte
Citizen Food Editor

When Verna Van Loan talks about old family recipes, she means old.

Mrs. Van Loan, 1637 Palm Springs Circle, has a brandied fruit compote, for example, that has been in her family at least a century and was started even longer ago than that in Kirbyville, Tex.

She also has a diary of old English recipes kept by her great-great-great-grandmother more than 125 years ago. Some, when followed, taste just as good today; others, she says, are “more unique in their written form.”

Mrs. Van Loan has no recipe for the branded fruit starter, which she “keeps going” by adding more sugar and fruit before it gets down to three cups.

It is kept in a warm spot so that fermentation will continue, the lid is kept loose to prevent explosion (!) and it is stirred occasionally.

“If gnats get into the mixture, don’t worry,” she says. “They eat very little. Just lift them out.”

Mmph. Well, since Kirbyville didn’t exist until 1895, I doubt it was that old.

From the box of F.J. from Sun City, Arizona. Some cards suggest a family history in Missouri and Kansas.

Brandied Fruit

This start came from Kirbyville in deep East Texas. It is a magic potion that must be handled with respect. When the start was given to me there was one condition about sharing it with others. The one to whom you give this fruit must be worthy.

You must never let the contents of this jar get below three cups, or the fermentation will stop. This particular jar holds eight cups. Every two weeks you may add one cup of sugar and one cup of canned fruit–in this order: Pineapple tidbits or chunks cut in halves, sliced peaches cut in halves, and maraschino cherries cut in halves. You must not add any oftener than two weeks, but you may delay adding a day or two without disastrous results. If you delay, you will naturally have to change your calendar for adding later. I would suggest that you keep a calendar so that you will not forget to add to the fruit.

Whenever you have over six cups of fermented fruit, you may divide into two portions with at least three cups in each. I would suggest dividing just before adding fruit and sugar. Say you have eight cups and wish to divide. Wait until the day to add sugar and fruit. Divide into two portions and then add sugar and fruit to each portion. I keep three jars going–that way I can always have some to use, and some to give away, whenever I find the worthy ones.

The fruit is very good spooned over vanilla ice cream or orange sherbet. It is also good on plain cake. You will find many other uses for it. Since it is rather unusual, it is a wonderful conversation piece when you entertain. I keep mine in plain view, and people are always quite interested in it. It is also a very easy dessert, and rather elegant, too. As to where it is kept, and how–never never refrigerate. Rather, keep the fruit in a warmish spot close to your oven or range top. Never never put a lid on tightly, or it might explode. Or so I was told. The apothecary jars are just right because there is room for expansion, since the lids just move up a bit with pressure from inside. You must stir occasionally to help the sugar dissolve.

Hope that you will enjoy this and have fun with it, too.

Calendar Dates for Adding Fruit

Cherries _____________ Cherries _____________ Cherries _____________
Pineapple ____________ Pineapple ____________ Pineapple ____________
Peaches ______________ Peaches ______________ Peaches ______________
Cherries _____________ Cherries _____________ Cherries _____________
Pineapple ____________ Pineapple ____________ Pineapple ____________
Peaches ______________ Peaches ______________ Peaches ______________

Sample starter recipe (provided by Yesterdish)

Just in case Kirbyville’s time-traveling magic starter isn’t available…

3 Tsp. active dry yeast
2 cups canned pineapple or peaches in heavy syrup (or a mix)
1/4 cup chopped maraschino cherries
1.5 cups sugar

Mix; stir daily for two weeks.

One Comment

  1. john overbeck

    Have cherry tomatoes or raisons been used in brandied fruit?

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