Boiled custard and fruitcake are Christmas favorites

December 17, 2003|DONNA CLORE

Mary Lois Robinson's holiday ritual for the past 50 years has included making boiled custard and fruitcake.

The fruitcake recipe belonged to her mother - Bessie Clark, who was best known as "Clarkie." The family was from Richmond.

"Clarkie was the first one in her neighborhood to make a white fruit cake," Mrs. Robinson said. "Other people were still making the traditional dark cake when mother came up with this recipe. She always made it when I was growing up. And I started making it in the '50s."

The applesauce in it makes it moist and a little different from most recipes. Robinson veers from the course of traditional fruitcake.


"Clarkie never liked the citron or lemon in other recipes, so she never put them in. So I don't either. You can use any mixture of fruit for the three cups the recipe calls for. Change it around to suit yourself."

Robinson likes to share the cake

"I usually keep one cake, give one to my daughters (Patricia Whitis, who lives in Casey County, and Betsy Hayes in Virginia), and then cut the others up and put slices on a plate with other cookies to give as Christmas gifts."

Recipients can take their time eating the cake.

"I eat it until June. It stays good that long if you keep it in the refrigerator. If it dries out some, just cover it up with custard. It would probably freeze well, but I've never tried it."

The boiled custard is an original recipe.

"It's mine," said Robinson. "I didn't have it written down for a long time. My daughter wanted to publish it in a church cookbook, so I finally had to write it down."

Even inexperienced cooks can attempt the custard.

"It is almost foolproof to make. The only thing you have to decide is how thick or how thin you want it - whether to drink it out of a cup, like eggnog, or to serve it over another food. You just have to change the amount of flour in it to change the consistency."

Whereas only certain people like fruitcake, the custard has mass appeal.

"Everybody loves my custard. They may not like the cake, but they do the custard."

She made the custard a lot for her mother who was an invalid the last few years of her life.

"I kept angel food cake and custard in the refrigerator all the time. She could eat that without having any stomach problems."

At Christmas, Robinson usually makes about 10 gallons of custard to give as gifts. One year she made 17 gallons. Every year, "I say I'm not going to make it any more, but I will as long as I can," she says

Over the years, she and son John have had a hard time finding enough jars. A favorite is the straight up-and-down, quart-size Lipton tea jar. These and other 1/2-gallon jars are ideal for gifts.

"I kind of hoard containers because I'm always giving people custard."

It keeps several days in the refrigerator.

"I'm careful with it because of the eggs."

John Robinson says it can be eaten in a variety of ways.

"You can drink it out of a cup, or eat it out of a bowl with a spoon, crumble chocolate chip cookies up and sprinkle on top, or pour it over your favorite cake. I like to drop chunks of vanilla ice cream in mine."

His mother has altered the recipe for safety concerns.

"Years ago recipes for custard called for adding hot milk to eggs or eggs to hot milk. Then it was difficult to prevent eggs from cooking or milk from curdling. I could never remember which way it would work, so I decided to mix them together cold so it wouldn't curdle. It worked."

Most cooks wanted to use all parts of the eggs.

"The new thing came around called 'Floating Island,' which was a way to use up the egg whites left from using only the yolks for custard. We had to do something with all those whites. I didn't like the looks of all those hunks of egg whites floating on top of the custard, so I started using the electric mixer to beat them into the hot yolk and milk mixture."

Robinson moved to Danville in 1952 when her husband, the late John E. Robinson, became superintendent of Danville City Schools. She retired after teaching fifth grade for 21 years. She remains active in many organizations.

She received many professional honors such as the Outstanding Teacher KET Award for Excellence and Outstanding Alumni Award from Eastern Kentucky University. She was listed in "Who's Who in America" in 1984, "The World's Who's Who of Women," and "Personalities of America" in 1985. She has many hobbies and activities, but had to give up playing golf after 30 years.

Robinson has published three books and traveled around the world. Her volunteer activities within the community and her church, First Christian, are numerous.

Spending time with family remains important. She enjoys grandchildren Julie, Paige, Hunt and Tony. She still cooks a lot because "there is always some of the family coming in." And she still cooks a big Sunday dinner.

Now, much of her time is divided between kitchen and computer. She is writing the genealogy of the family using the computer for research and recording.

Mary Lois Robinson's Boiled Custard

8 cups milk

2 cups sugar

8 medium eggs or 10 small

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