I’ve always hated fruitcake. I never could understand why anyone would think Fruitcake was an appropriate gift to give or worst yet serve on your holiday table where there should be much more desirable sweets. My most vivid memory had been going to my step- grandmother’s house as a kid and seeing a tray of sliced fruitcake along side a tower of fig-filled cookies, date-nut spirals, crystallized grapefruit peels and dried apricots ……. nothing a child of any age would want to consume. Truth be told, most of the food served at Grandmother Esther’s was awful. Esther was a fine Professor of Music at Edinboro State Teacher’s College, but as a fine or even fair cook she was not. I was told by my mother that Es had an illness in the 1940s that altered her sense of taste so she really didn’t know what good food tasted like. I didn’t buy it, I think she reveled in annoying her step-son-in-law (my dad) and step grandchildren by serving us gross food. Perhaps I’ll write a future blog post about that but for now I digress. I hate fruitcake.
My husband did not hate fruitcake. In fact he loved it. I dare say his favorite might’ve been those loaves you could get at a drugstore usually sitting aside the fake tin of Danish Butter Cookies that was only sold November-January (and now probably 70% off). After years of debating the reason for the very existence of fruitcake and pleas from my husband to try making one, four seasons ago I defied my culinary values and agreed to make a fruitcake.
I set rules. The cake would be considered one of his Christmas gifts as the expense, effort and shear horror of what I would experience was gift worthy. Likewise, the cake would be unveiled on Christmas day in the company of only our immediate family and never, ever appear on our dining table after that. If he liked it, my husband was permitted to share it with known fruitcake lovers only. If he didn’t like it, we would never speak of it again.
I chose the recipe for “Dark Fruitcake” out of “The Joy of Cooking”. I bought all the ingredients right down to the currants and citron and all those other candied fruits that stick together in clumps and dates that are almost impossible to chop. I mixed everything in a gigantic bowl and used a 12-cup ring pan. My fruitcake weighed a TON. I baked it for many, many hours and then cooled it for many, many, hours. Surprisingly, once cool the menacing dark glob came out of the pan okay (Jeez it was dark. Maybe burnt? It didn’t smell burnt, just fruitcakey.). I covered the behemoth with brandy-soaked flour clothes, wrapped in multiple layers of plastic wrap, stuck it in a super-sized zip-lock bag and placed it in the cupboard of my antique dry sink. That was 3 weeks prior to Christmas day.
My man loved the fruitcake I had made. That year, he might’ve shared a tad, but mostly he ate it himself over a course of about two weeks. With each passing day he told me he loved me more than the day before because I had become a fruitcake maker. It was clear that another family tradition had begun and the following Christmas would include a homemade fruitcake.
So the next year there was indeed another two-ton fruitcake made that tasted similar to the first. Last year though I got bold and decided to make three large loaves instead. The idea being that now my fruitcake gift was even more fun because my husband could taste the cake at varying ages and share more easily since now his fruitcake had gained a small following. He finished the first loaf in about a week. The second loaf took him just about through basketball season (those who read this blog often know my husband was a basketball coach). To him, this was the best fruitcake ever! I’ll never get over the fact that my husband could love a gross food so much. For him, my fruitcake was right up there with the very best of my recipe rotation.
This is where my story gets a little sappy. You see my husband never got to his third fruitcake loaf. He unexpectedly died on February 18th of last year. Needless to say I never gave that fruitcake aging in my antique dry sink a thought until this holiday season, over a year since it had been baked. My daughter, son and I knew the holidays would be hard for us but we were determined to make the best of it while keeping our papa and husband in our hearts. I had suggested to my daughter we open the fruitcake on Christmas day to see what became of it then throw it away. I forgot all about it so the holidays came and went without the fruitcake making an appearance. Just yesterday (it’s January 7th) I remembered a Hallmark Christmas Movie featuring an 100 year old fruitcake (it’s called “Broadcasting Christmas”, I looked it up). That made me go right to the dry sink to fetch the last fruitcake loaf.
I took it out, unwrapped it’s many layers of plastic wrap and brandied cloth. It was still moist, dark and smelled thick of molasses. I took a bite. It tasted as gross as always. That same gross taste that my husband loved only now the brandy flavor was magnified. I took another bite. This time it tasted so much better. I could taste the love I put into making it. I could taste my love! Almost a year since my husband had passed and I was enjoying his fruitcake! In the end the gift I made for him became a gift to me. And that gift is going to keep on giving at least another year. I wrapped that “dark brick of molasses filled love” again in a brandy doused cloth, applied multiple layers of plastic wrap, put it back in the zip-lock bag and in the cupboard it went. Next Christmas, if I don’t think it’ll kill anyone, I’ll make my kids take a bite and share some with my husband’s fruitcake fans. I may keep any remaining for the following year but probably not.
I still think you’ve gotta be nuts to like fruitcake, but in this first week of January 2020 having a few bites was a gift to me. Live each day, be kind to one another and share the love.
“Political advice is a bit like your average Christmas fruitcake: something everyone gives and no one wants.” ~ Bob Dole