Mom's Christmas Cake
Conjuring sweet memories, fruitcake still honored at the holidays
I’m often puzzled by people’s strong feelings about fruitcake. Some complaints I’ve heard include: It has an unpleasant taste, it contains fruit not found in nature, and it is so heavy it would be best used as a doorstop.
For me, however, the very thought of the sweet, dark, fruity delight gets my salivary glands working and conjures up sugar-coated memories of my mother’s special Christmas fruitcake, and of glorious holidays gone by.
My family emigrated from England in 1949-50, in search of more opportunity than was available in a country slowly recovering from war. While we worked to assimilate into our new country, our home was still full of English traditions, one of which was the joyous celebration of Christmas. For my mother that
meant spending days up to her elbows in flour, sugar and almond paste, creating the Christmas fruitcake which, as a child, I considered to be an indispensable part of the holidays.
With its pounds of sugar and a brittle frosting capable of breaking a tooth, that cake would today no doubt be a dentist’s nightmare. But it was a tradition at my parent’s annual Christmas Eve party where my father served as bartender and my mother, in her traditional red velvet dress, which she made for herself every year, spent a large part of the evening in the kitchen trying to keep up with demand for her hot sausage rolls.
The Christmas Cake sat in a place of honor on the serving table, topped with colorful ornamentation including sprigs of artificial holly, miniature houses, and a tiny plastic Santa and sleigh, kept safe in a plastic bag and resurrected each year to skim across the hard, white sugar frosting.
That first taste was heaven, and best of all, the cake would last for weeks and sometimes months, somehow improving with age.
Unfortunately, as my mother grew older, making the cake became too much of a chore. Our family tried many store-bought cakes but none ever quite measured up.
My mother died last April, tw o weeks before her 97th birthday. Soon after, my sister came across the recipe for the Christmas Cake that my grandfather had sent to my mother years ago. Finding it was eerily fortuitous, as it had been handwritten on a sheet of onion skin paper and was tucked away in a gardening book in a back room. Apparently aware of the amount of work entailed in producing the cake, at the bottom of the recipe our grandfather had written “Best of Luck, Dad.”
In this age of having any type of food as close as the internet, few people have the patience to attempt a project that entails seeking out and combining ingredients not normally found in most homes. But for those with an adventurous spirit, the cake recipe is shown here.
This Christmas I’ll miss my mom, and onc e again her wonderful Christmas Cake. But both have brought me memories that I will taste forever.
Glenn Ostle lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, and is a frequent contributor to TOTI Media publications. View his photography at: featherandfins.smugmug.com.