Like any ordinary kitchen on the morning fruit cakes are going to be baked, the cook was running around looking for the nutmeg, asking no one in particular where it was.

But in this case the seeker was White House pastry chef Heinz Bender and eventually he had to run upstairs to the kitchen in the family quarters to get his nutmeg.

Bender, who has been making fruit cakes at the White House for almost 10 years, got a late start this year. He wasn't even certain he would be making them because he didn't get the go-ahead until late October, several weeks after he usually has the project well underway.

There was some concern that the cakes would be banished because the Carters do not serve liquor in the White House, and Bender's recipe is laced with rum, bourbon and sherry. But even Mrs. Carter's mother, Miss Allie, who never had a drop of alcohol in her house, always borrowed just enough whiskey to season her annual Christmas Lane Cake.

As much as people would like the White House recipe to have been handed down from Bender's grandmother, the chef says she never baked fruit cakes. He began making this recipe during World War II when he was chef at New York's Hotel Lexington. The hotel sent a fruit cake to each of its former employees in the military. In those days the German-born Bender made only 30 cakes per season. During the Nixon years he made as many as 180 for the White House holiday parties. This year he has prepared 75 fruit cakes.

Bender says the cakes slice better if aged in the refrigerator and, if kept cold, will last a year. Ideally, they should age for two months. But a month will do nicely.

The recipe has been adapted and the amount translated from ounces and pounds to cups and teaspoons. This accounts for several instances where the word heaping accompanies a given quantity. WHITE HOUSE FRUIT CAKE (Makes six 2 pound cakes) 1 3/4 pounds raisins 1 1/4 pounds golden raisins 1 pound currants 2 pounds mixed glaceed fruit 1/2 pound chopped pecans 1/2 pound slivered blanched almonds 1/4 pound glaceed pineapple, diced 1 cup dry sherry 5 ounces dark rum 3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar 1/2 cup granulated sugar 1 pound plus 4 tablespoons butter 3/4 cup (heaping) all-purpose flour 1/4 cup honey 3/4 teaspoon (heaping) salt 1/4 teaspoon (heaping) lemon extract 1/4 teaspoon (heaping) almond extract 1/2 teaspoon vanilla 1/4 teaspoon (heaping) nutmeg 1/4 teaspoon (heaping) cinnamon 10 eggs 2 cups all-purpose flour 1 3/4 cups cake flour 1/2 teaspoon baking powder Glaze (see recipe)

Mix together all the fruits and nuts with sherry and 5 ounces of rum. Cover and refrigerate for two days, or at least overnight, stirring occasionally. Beat together thoroughly the sugars, butter, 3/4 cup all purpose flour, honey, salt and seasonings. Add the eggs, a few at a time and beat until thoroughly blended. Add the remaining dry ingredients and continue beating until thoroughly blended. Combine batter with fruit and nut mixture. Use your hands, if necessary, to mix well.

Prepare 9-by-5-by-3-inch bread pans, or whatever baking containers, such as coffee cans or tube pans, that will hold 2 pounds of batter. Grease the pan and line bottoms and sides with brown baking paper or aluminum foil. Spoon in batter and smooth out in pans. Bake cakes at 350 degrees for one hour or until tester inserted in center of cake comes out clean. If tops of cakes begin to burn, cover lightly with foil.

Cool cakes in pans on racks about 15 minutes or until cakes are cool enough to handle. Remove from pans and remove paper. Cool completely. Then store in tightly covered containers in the refrigerator. Before refrigerating, brush tops with bourbon glaze.

GLAZE: Combine 6 ounces bourbon with 3 ounces rum and 2 ounces simple syrup made by cooking equal parts of sugar and water until mixture boils and sugar is dissolved.

Reserve remaining glaze and use to bursh fruit cakers again about a week before using. The cakes can be brushed with the glaze as often as you like or they can be wrapped in a cheesecloth which has been soaked in the glaze, the cheesecloth remoistened as it dries out.

*Currants are particularly difficult to find this year. Substitute an equal amount of raisins.