Mom's Christ­mas Cake

Con­jur­ing sweet mem­o­ries, fruit­cake still hon­ored at the hol­i­days

RSWLiving - - Holiday Special - BY GLENN OS­TLE

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.

PatFror­i1c9im2a0y­J-2oma0on1th­7 Oer­s­tle

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