Mrs. Crippen is Connecticut’s Mrs. Claus
Sylvia Crippen 
Photo by Christine Bates

Mrs. Crippen is Connecticut’s Mrs. Claus

Sylvia Crippen is an elegant 89-year-old with a tinkling laugh and a Scarlett O’Hara accent. She bakes about 300 Mrs. Crippen Bourbon & Molasses Fruit Cakes in her kitchen in Salisbury, Conn., from a family recipe handed down by her mother-in-law, which are sold only at Christmas time in Guido’s in Great Barrington, Mass., the Salisbury General Store, and online at www.christophepornay.com. These are not the fruitcakes that Johnny Carson described as: “The worst gift is a fruitcake. There is only one fruitcake in the entire world, and people keep sending it to each other.” A Mrs. Crippen fruitcake is not covered with sugared maraschino cherries and chunks of citron surrounded by soggy, stale cake. It resembles a dark, moist, fruity British Christmas dessert with a trace of Jim Beam bourbon.

Mrs. Crippen has been making these cakes for family, friends, hostess gifts, business associates, and her children’s teachers since she left her job as a stewardess for American Airlines to marry Rex Crippen – whose family is the source of the secret recipe. It wasn’t until 2013 that she started a seasonal baking business in Wilmington, N.C., with her husband. She gets up at 4:30 or 5 a.m. to bake a batch of 10 cakes. She likes them to age at least three weeks, but longer is even better. She prefers two months — they never go bad. ”I do this because I like to do it. You have to have something in your life, and I don’t have to do it every day,” she said. “My three children are interested in the business but not the baking part. We added a gluten-free version of the cake at my son’s Peter’s suggestion. When my grandson was 10 he designed the label for me on his computer.” 

Mrs. Crippen keeps her ingredients in special drawers built into her kitchen, using the empty space under the stairs. The cake-making process begins with marinating the diced fruit in bourbon and molasses for a minimum of 24 hours, or it could be months. The night before baking, she takes the butter and eggs out of the refrigerator to bring them to room temperature and then mixes them all up with the flour and spices. The final step is to put the fruit on the bottom, then the batter, and last the nuts, and then she blends it. “Arthritis in my hands slows me down a little.” She measures 14.5 ounces for each cake and puts it in her oven at 260 degrees for around an hour and a half. After the cakes have cooled, they are slipped out of their pans, receive another bath of bourbon, and are wrapped up.

Mrs. Crippen’s fruitcakes are genuine luxury products. Made in limited quantities with high-quality ingredients for anyone who loves fruitcakes, the holidays, and the idea that a local, vivacious 89-year-old has been making them for decades.

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