We generally find fruit cake a food to be joked about. No one in the US really wants to get one. It will be regifted, thrown out or used as a doorstop by those receiving it. In Trinidad they take their fruit cake VERY seriously. As I found on one site while fruitlessly searching (yes, I know, bad pun) for a picture of the Trini version, 'It's a fruit cake. It's a rum cake. It's euphoria!'
They actually call it Black Cake and they often start working on it at the end of October because it is critical to have Black Cake to offer your visitors when they come calling during December. First they have to gather the various dried fruits that will go into it. Each person is very particular about the ingredients they put into their Black Cake. They know which brands of flour, sugar, dried fruits, or rum they want and nothing less will do. Some will make their own dried fruits to guarantee the quality is what they want. Once the have their fruits they start soaking them in rum. Twenty-four hours is the minimally acceptable time for soaking fruits but a week is better, and a month is best.
On bake day there is another important step which is caramelizing the sugar. Those of you who bake may envision a gooey, gently golden syrupy result. This would be entirely inaccurate. What really happens is the brown sugar is cooked in oil until it is black. This is the most delicate part of the whole process. You want the black color the cake is named for, but one moment too long over the heat and the sugar is burnt to the point of inedible bitterness. Once this is done, the sugar is mixed into the fruits and rum. Finally, the batter is prepared, the fruit/rum/sugar mixture is added and the cake is baked.
After baking, which by the way does NOT remove all the rum the fruit was soaking in, the cake is cooled in the pan and it is soaked with more rum. Women will make several Black cakes and as time goes by more and more rum is added to the cake in order to keep it moist and preserved for the duration of the season. The later in December you have a slice of Black cake, the higher the proof! Add to your black cake a cup of Ponche a Creme (local version of heavily rummed eggnog) and you may be staggering your way back home.
To offset the strong flavor of the Black cake, it is always served with a small slice of light and fluffy yellow sponge cake. Spiced red sorrel punch or ginger beer (non-alcoholic) may also be served. I was also really fond of Peardrax, which is a sparkling pear juice drink that is popular during the holidays.
Pastelles are little packets of seasoned meat encased in cornmeal dough and steamed in a banana leaf. These are nice portable snacks that a visitor may be sent home with for a treat later on. Even though they can't be grown in the tropical climate, apples and grapes are considered must have treats during the Christmas season. And now christmas dinner is complete without a ham. A nice smoked ham is even more expensive in Trinidad than it is here so people who may not eat meat regularly due to economics will save all year long to be able to buy a nice ham for Christmas.
Now, if you'll excuse me I've worked up a bit of an appetite!