Iron Will: Fruitcake Hater's Fruitcake Recipe

Year Released: 1994
Directed by: Charles Haid
Starring: MacKenzie Astin, Kevin Spacey, August Schellenberg, David Ogden Stiers, George Gerdes
(PG, 108 min.)

"A boy becomes a man when a man is needed." John Steinbeck

You will love this 1994 Disney film featuring life and death on the icebound plains. Follow young Will Stoneman on the ride of his life as he battles treacherous ice, scheming rivals, and complete exhaustion on this 522-mile dog sled race from Winnipeg to St. Paul. 

The film opens with a few minutes of unfettered exhilaration as seventeen year old Will (MacKenzie Astin) races against a steam engine coming to collect the mail he pulls behind his sled dogs. He careens around corners and flies off ridges with the same barely in control audacity of today’s skateboarders. But when his father’s sled plummets into a river, Will’s dreams are also sucked below the icy waters. The only chance to save the family farm and maybe pay for college is a marathon dogsled race with its $10,000 prize.

It is a nearly impossible quest of mythic proportions, complete with bigger than life villains and nature’s ruthless enmity. And there is only a month to prepare. But Will has Ned ((August Schellenberg), a man of mystical wisdom and poetry, to help him. Ned has all of Yoda’s insight without his annoying speech patterns. His words make exquisite the pain and suffering Will must endure to win the race.

“Run with the moon, embrace the darkness, grow hard with the cold,” he advises. Almost makes you want to be out there with him enjoying what sounds like an amorous adventure, doesn’t it? To have a chance against the other more seasoned racers, Will must “run longer, sleep less.” Finally, Ned mixes two potions for Will, one to give him strength to fight illness and another to heal his injuries. Little does Will suspect how he will have to use the latter.

Borg, the chief villain in Iron Will is a belligerent Swede who delights in taunting the young man with names like “Little Lost Yankee," and promises to cut off his fingers for him when they blacken with frostbite. A nasty piece of work who relishes the sting of his lash, whether for his dog team or an unsuspecting rival, Borg clearly delights in every aspect of his villainy, his evil laughter echoing off the perilous cliffs of ice. One would be hard pressed to decide between Cruella de Ville or the White Witch from Chronicles of Narnia as his perfect bride. 

Filling out the cast we have Kevin Spacey as the cynical reporter Harry Kingsley in one of his more likeable roles, before his name became synonymous with middle-aged perverts or demented serial killers. He puts up some cash to cover Will’s late entry and calls it the best eight-dollar investment he’s ever made. Clearly he intends to make his lagging career on Will’s exploits as he writes inside the cozy railway car while Will slogs through the snow. And if he dies out there, he’ll write Will “one hell of an obituary.” All heart, that Harry Kingsley. 

J P Harper, one of the magnates who sponsors the race, sees himself in Will, a boy with “the heart of a bear.” And he remembers enough of what it was like to have only a “dim chance and a bright hope” to put up a personal $10,000 on Will’s prospects.

Those of you who fell in love with Max of Eight Below will feel the same about Buck, the savvy champion sled dog reluctant to accept a new master after Will’s father dies. On at least two occasions, Buck readily proves the truth of Ned’s advice to trust no one but the dogs. 

Then there’s the course, which looms like a character itself with descriptive names such as Heartbreak Hill or Devil’s Run. A specially equipped train car stands in stark contrast to the brutal conditions of the race. Inside its elaborate interiors, a chef prepares delicious meals for the fat cat sponsors as they smoke Havana cigars washed down with the finest of cognac. Its luxury and warmth only highlight the brutal cold Will and the others face for 522 miles.

And looming like a dark shadow is America’s entry into World War I, then known only as The Great War. Its headlines blaze across the daily newspaper like a black edged destruction consuming it. 

Fire and ice. The world, then, as now, is not a friendly place. All the more reason to cheer on a young man who refuses to give up, who will brave the raw wind and the snowy depths, long days and sleepless nights to face his fears or be conquered by them.

—Kathy Borich

Film-Loving Foodie

Just like a Greek hero on an impossible quest, Will Stoneman has some magic to help him succeed. Perseus had Pluto’s helmet of invisibility and some winged sandals that let him fly with the speed of the wind. Will Stoneman has his mother’s special fruitcake. 

Before you turn up your nose at this most castigated of dishes, let Will extol its virtues. While his rivals have to spend their time and energy building a fire to cook their nightly meals, Will has only to eat his, a special recipe filled with enough energy to fuel him through the two weeks plus of the race. And he has no heavy cooking utensils to weigh him down.

I’ve searched far and wide for the best tasting fruitcake, one loaded with goodness and a little magic. And it’s guaranteed to delight even the most confirmed fruitcake haters. I should know. I used to be one of them.

Fruitcake Hater's Fruitcake

This new take on fruitcake is much more like a carrot cake than a fruitcake, and it is DELICIOUS, even if you hate traditional fruitcake.

Serves about 12

Cake 

  • 3 oranges
  • 1 cup dried cranberries or cherries
  • 3/4 cup golden raisins
  • 1/2 cup currants
  • 1/2 cup dried apricots -- chopped
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup butter -- softened
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts

Icing

  • 10 ounces cream cheese -- softened
  • 8 tablespoons powdered sugar
  • dried fruit for garnish

Preheat oven to 325 F. Butter and flour a 10" tube pan. 

Grate 2 tbsp zest from oranges. Squeeze oranges to make 1 cup juice. Set aside. In medium saucepan, combine dried fruits and 2/3 cup orange juice. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Drain well, set aside. In large mixing bowl, cream sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, then add orange zest and vanilla, beat well. Alternately add combined dry ingredients and buttermilk to the creamed mixture, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Stir in walnuts and fruit. Pour batter into prepared pan. 

Bake about 1 hour and 15 minutes or until golden brown and a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Allow to cool in pan 10 minutes. Remove to wire rack, cool completely. 

For icing, beat together cream cheese and powdered sugar until smooth. Add 1/3 cup orange juice, beat well. Spread icing on cake, garnish with dried fruit. 

Cake can be made 5 days ahead; cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature 30 min. before serving. To freeze, wrap tightly in freezer wrap, heavy-duty aluminum foil or plastic freezer-safe bags. Freeze up to 2 months. Bring to room temperature 45 min. before serving.

Recipe Source: Betty Rosbottom