Icebox Fruitcake And Why Christmas Trees Don’t Have to be Green

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My grandmother grew up poor.  But just as my buddy Christy Jordan would say, she was rich in every way that mattered.  And her story to me about her favorite Christmas was perfect evidence of that.

She was one of six children.  Out of necessity, both her parents worked to make ends meet and she was raised by her older siblings, as was so common in those days.  Her father was a night watchman at a saw mill and her mother worked at a plant nursery.  When Christmas would roll around though, poverty took nothing away from them in the way of holiday magic and excitement.  Every year, each child would be presented with one toy, an homemade outfit, and a small assortment of fruit, nuts, and peppermint candies.  And that was a big Christmas to them.  Each year it was always her father’s job to go out and hunt for the perfect Christmas tree.  That was his big contribution to the celebration and he took great pride in presenting the perfect cedar tree for trimming.  Of course, running down to the tree lot was out of the budget, so he would set out in the woods to track down a prime specimen.  One year in particular, he wasn’t able to find a cedar tree to suit.  After hours of searching, in a last ditch effort to provide something, he cut down a holly bush he found.  Back at home, feeling a little embarrassed with his haul, he set out to make the puny bush special.  Finding a can of silver paint, he painstakingly brushed every single prickly holly leaf with a shiny coat.   They added the few ornaments they had and one small strand of bubble lights.  The result, as my grandmother would put it, was the most beautiful, amazing Christmas tree she’s ever had. It wasn’t about it being the perfect size or color, or even about it being a tree at all.    The love he put into that tree made it beautiful.   That tree went down in history with her and her family.  And something that he thought inadequate, became the main focus of one of the most fond Christmases they ever shared.

Hearing my grandmother tell this story when I was a child, I remember trying to figure out how someone could be so excited about a silver bush and only one toy for Christmas.  I mean she would reflect on Christmases past with the same starry-eyed look that I’m sure she had when they first happened.  Today, as an adult with my own child, I have a much better understanding of the importance of a simple, but impactful holiday.

So often we get caught up in the holiday season that we fail to realize the simple things that make it so special.  We focus our attention on buying the best gifts and decorating the perfect tree, when the real  importance of the holiday lies in sharing the time with our loved ones.


This holiday season, I hope that you’ll take the time to pay attention to the simple things.  For one day you’ll look back and realize they were the big things.

This recipe is one of those simple things that have always made holidays special in our family.  Every  Christmas would find this on my grandmother’s table.  And now, I get the opportunity to share her recipe with y’all.

Icebox Fruitcake
Prep time
Total time
  • 1 box graham crackers (14.4 oz)
  • 1 cup pecans
  • 1 jar maraschino cherries (10 oz) drained, with juice reserved
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 cup shredded coconut, firmly packed
  • 1½ cups mini marshmallows
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk (14 oz)
  1. Finely crush graham crackers and coarsely chop pecans and drained cherries.
  2. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix well. Add reserved cherry juice by the tablespoonful until the mixture comes together, but isn't too soft.
  3. Turn out into a lightly buttered 9X13 dish and press flat into the pan with your hands. Chill at least 6 hours, then cut into bars.

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  1. Okay, you went and got me misty. The Christmases you described sound like ours when I was growing up: something to wear, one gift (if it was a prosperous year), and “goodie bags.” And I’m not old enough to be your grandmother! 🙂

    I’ll definitely have to try this unfruitcakey fruitcake. Do you think it would set up all right if I put it in small loaf pans?

    Thanks so much and Merry Christmas!

  2. Charlotte O'Bryan says:

    This sounds so much like a cake my grandmother made years ago. Unfortunately I never got the recipe and didn’t trust my memory to try to make it. I am going to try this, by the way, she did make hers in loaf pans.

  3. I remember when I was a junior in high school and went out shirt sleeved into the woods to ge a Christmas tree. A yearly ritual except for the dress. will not say how many years ago that was.

    thanks for this recipe. It is similar to one I had years ago and have since lost. Merry Christmas

  4. Thank you for sharing this sweet memory and the reminder of what is really important and meaningful! This recipe sounds so good!

  5. DARLENE EPPS says:


  6. My Granny also made an Icebox Fruitcake, but it was made with Nilla Wafers. After she mixed it up, she would roll it into logs, put it it the bag that the Nilla Wafers came in and would store it in the freezer – the only fruitcake I eat!

  7. I love fruitcake, thanks for sharing 🙂

  8. sounds good, and my gifts come from the kitchen. do you think it will work with cinnamon graham crackers?


    • I’ve never tried it with cinnamon graham crackers, but it sounds good to me! If you try it, please let me know. I’d love to hear how they turn out!

      • Hi Stacey
        I just tried the cinnamon graham crackers and it is delicious! Necessity being the mother of invention, I used what I had, which was walnuts and dried cranberries.
        Since I will be giving some as gifts, is this something that has to be kept refridgerated?
        Thank you so much for sharing!

        • Wonderful! I’m so glad it turned out well! We always keep our refrigerated.

        • Michael Austin says:

          Dried cranberries? Terrif !!! One question: Did you experience dried fruits – cranberries or raisins – absorbing moisture from the cake And if so, did you pre-soak them? Or is this only a problem with baked fruitcake?

  9. My mother used to make this when we were growing up. She lined the graham cracker box with foil, and packed the mixture back into the box. We always kept this refrigerated.

  10. With Wings says:

    My mother-in-law used to make fruitcake cookies that were yummy, but she past on a year ago, so I might try to do something fruitcakey this Christmas! In her honor! I’ll try yours! I have to say that even though I grew up with being happy with a baby doll or a painted bike to ride to school, in the last several years, our decorations have grown into all of the rooms. Different trees in our 7 room cabin in the woods!

    A few years ago, while others were talking, and my husband was sharing the Christmas Story about Jesus to the grandgirls, I was standing at the door with my father-in-law and I joked that the food was ready and here he and I was. The food ready, the table set, waiting………………………..!!!

    I went to telling him that I found his old metal tent revival chairs in the shed and painted them brown, so I would have the same chairs to go around the table. I told him that as I sprayed each one, I started praying and wondering who sat in them, young or old, and did they get saved??? He said….”And Billy Graham could have sat in one”!!!! I just about went into shock!!! I think I asked, “What”??? He said that Billy Graham’s Crusade happened to be in the same area in South Texas as he was with his tent ministry and they needed to borrow some of his chairs. Wow!!! There was 12 chairs., 11 of us and one for Jesus and the best gift I received was a story of an humble Christian man that could have sat in one of our chairs, some 40 years ago!!! “Jesus is the Reason”!!!

    God Bless Y’all this 2013 Christmas!!!

  11. Carolyn Vigna says:

    I grew up with this fruitcake at Christmas. The only difference I can see is we always used dates in ours & no coconut. It wouldn’t be Christmas for my grown kids without this fruitcake. Grandma & mamma made theirs in loaf pans. I have started putting mine in mini cupcake pans. With a cherry on top of each one they are so pretty on a cookie tray.

  12. Thank you for sharing your recipe. Mum and I had purchased an organization’s cookbook .We made this for years. Suddenly she moved and we could not find the book . I can hardly wait to surprise her with this on Christmas day . We always found when it was prepared a few weeks early and refrigerated the flavors really mellow together.

  13. This is the only fruitcake that I have ever liked. When I was growing up, Mother made one every year for Christmas. After I married, Mother always made at least two ice box fruitcakes…one to be shared at Christmas and one for me to take home and enjoy.

  14. Linda Cockrill says:

    I just came across your blog and when I read your Christmas tree story, what memories it brought back of MY childhood!. My grandparents were in the same situation as yours. My parents and I lived at their place a lot as I was growing up and back in the 1950s and 60s, we never had store-bought trees, we always went out into the pastures to “pick” a Christmas tree. I can still remember how sticky-sharp the needles were and how sticky the sap was!! We decorated them with anything we could find as we had very few ornaments. I know we had the holly bushes too. My brother and I got the one gift and we always had the fruit with walnuts and almonds, and the big thing in our home was a box of chocolate-covered cherries every Christmas!! My grandmother ALWAYS saved the wrapping paper and it WAS used the next year, it might have to be IRONED (LOL) but it was reused!!! Beautiful memories of a very special childhood – I loved my grandparents dearly, I miss them and those simple country Christmas’ to this day! Thank you for bringing all that back for me!

  15. My Tennessee mother-in-law shared a recipe that is similar with me years ago. Her recipe had candied fruitcake mix in place of the raisins, cherries, coconut, and marshmallow. I make her version every Christmas and it is my favorite fruitcake. It keeps well in the refrigerator or freezer so I can have a piece throughout the year. Thanks for sharing your version of the recipe

  16. Hello,
    My memory of Christmas was of my siblings and I going to my grandparents’ farm and getting a tree on the land. When my children were grown, I remember my daughter and her new husband going to the same place and getting the tree. It kind of looked like a “Charley Brown tree” but when it was decorated, it was beautiful. It came from the heart and was a treasured part of our Christmas.
    I lost both my husband and youngest son this year. They were the most amazing people and I was so very lucky to have them in my life. It won’t be a very merry Christmas but I’m going to try to remember the true meaning of it. My other two children live far away and we won’t be able to be together but we will certainly keep in touch and remember the good days together.
    Please treasure who you have in your lives – they can be lost so fast!

    • What a sweet memory! Those will be the ones to keep in your heart during this very difficult time. I wish you much peace and love this holiday season. I’ll be praying for you.

  17. I want to make this for Christmas. How do you think it will be using cinnamon graham crackers?

  18. sue andrews says:

    Best fruitcake ever .No cooking Merry Christmas.


  20. I also make this cake except I use Nilla Wafers and the raisins have to be the golden ones. Plus no coconut. My grandmother used to say that the dark raisins looked like flies in the cake. She also baked a fruitcake and put it in a tin. From Thanksgiving until Christmas she would open it up and pour a tablespoon of Scuppernog wine that she made over the top. It was the best.

  21. EXCELLENT article! Thank you for it!

  22. Lloyd Hamilton says:

    Stacy, I can’t thank you enough!!! My Mum used to make this every Christmas when I was young.
    I have tried to recreate this confection over the past couple of years, more for sentimental value than anything, since my Mum passed away a few years ago. Unfortunately, I haven’t found a recipe that comes close to the original until this one!
    It is perfect! Brings back warm memories of sitting in front of the franklin stove on snowy evenings with this tasty treat and steaming mugs of hot chocolate and coffee.
    Thank you again, and all the best to you and your family for the Christmas Season and 2015!

  23. Kentucky Lady 717 says:

    Thanks for posting this fruitcake recipe, I hope to make it soon. Never heard of it but looks like a lot of others have and also have made it….so glad to get this and try my luck……new to your blog and am enjoying it…..Merry Christmas to you and your family…..

  24. We grew up poor too. We would even make our own ornaments for the tree or bush, which ever Dad would bring home. Your story and recipe brought back fond memories! Thank you , for your story and sharing! I will definitely be making this for Christmas. God Bless and have a very Merry Christmas!

  25. Jo Lynn Bozer says:

    Some of my best childhood memories were spent in the kitchen with my granny watching her make this recipe. I actually teared up in the excitement of reading all the comments and finally finding the gold. She was a special little lady and the stories she would share as she worked her magic, adding her special little touches brings such joy. I do remember her using orange juice instead of the cherry juice and adding orange zest so orange is a great addition. I have searched so many fruitcake recipes and none compare to this one. Thank you for posting and bringing back a little bit of and old fashioned Christmas to pass on to the family. .

  26. Paula Hester says:

    I am looking forward to trying your icebox fruit cake since its my husband favorite fruitcake. thanks for making so easy!

  27. This sounds like something my mom made and shaped it into a log. My question is: I do not like biting into a marshmallow so was wondering if melting the marshmallows and adding them with the condensed milk would work or would it just be too sticky?

  28. Thanks Stacey for sharing the fruitcake recipe, Im going to use it for Christmas! Hope you will have a very Merry Christmas 2016!! Frances Propst

  29. Delora Holcomb says:

    Brings back lots of memories.
    Thanks for sharing.

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