Fruit Cake Weather

Imagine a morning in late November. A coming of winter morning more than twenty years ago.

I always loved Christmas stories so I eagerly turned to the one in the  featured in the women’s magazine my grandparents used to bring to our house. I was about thirteen then, reading in the privacy of the much-valued unshared bedroom I campaigned so hard for. (There were seven children in our family, but I made a convincing case for my, even then, hermit-like disposition.) I still remember, all these decades later, the general note of description preceding the reprinted story, lauding it and its author. Oh, this is going to be good, I thought but when I finished, I had a frown on my face. What kind of Christmas story was this? Where was the snow? What did kites have to do with anything? I am sorry to confess my narrow mind to you, but hope you will forgive me my youth. At any rate, I didn’t like it. No, I did not. But years later, when I realized I was haunted by those two intertwined kites, I began a search to find that story again and eventually did. Since then, Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory has become a cherished part of my own holiday traditions. I love it so much I even paid homage to it in my novel, The Memory Garden (which is sprinkled throughout with homage to stories and writers who whose work I admire) with Nan and Bay’s tradition of watching the original movie version narrated by Truman, himself.

Like Buddy in the story, my first friend was an elderly woman, in my case, the neighbor others called a witch. I liked the stories she told, and the way she paid such close attention to me. Like Buddy’s friend, mine was subject to “Those who Know Best” and it was eventually decided she would do better living in a nursing home. I sat in the back parlor with her while she cried as her house and possessions were auctioned off. Maybe that’s why the story has impacted me the way it has. Add to that the writer’s lesson of subverted expectations, which is a theme of most of my work, and we arrive at where we started; fruitcake weather.

       It’s always the same: a morning arrives in November, and my friend, as though officially inaugurating the Christmas time of year that exhilarates her imagination and fuels the blaze of her heart, announces: “It’s fruitcake weather!”

Yes, I like to eat my books, and while I am only weeks away from turning fifty-five, I enjoy inhabiting the stories I love. Every year, shortly after Thanksgiving, I make fruitcake. The recipe I use is dense with dried fruit and nuts. I love stirring the thick batter and pressing it into the buttered pans, remembering as I do, that first time I read A Christmas Memory and many of the years that followed. The year I dropped off a small loaf with my friend’s husband only to find out much later that he ate the whole thing himself! (I know fruitcake’s reputation, but not everyone agrees.) The year I stayed with my father-in-law who was too ill to go downtown for the day after Thanksgiving shopping and how it pleased him to watch the snow fall while I stirred. This year I will be thinking about my own mother who had a bad fall a couple of weeks ago and is struggling now, with this world. She loves my fruitcake.

Fruit Cake Recipe

1 Cup pitted dates

2 Cups quartered dried apricots

1 Cup golden raisins

1/2 Cup each slivered blanched almonds and walnuts

3/4 Cup flour

3/4 Cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

3 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

rum or brandy

Combine all ingredients except eggs and vanilla

Mix thoroughly

Beat eggs with vanilla. Add to dry.

Spoon into buttered 5 by 9 inch loaf pan, pressing down.

Bake at 300 degrees for one hour. (I have found that the time varies on this. You want it dry if you insert a toothpick.)

Wrap in foil, chill at least two days or up to two months.

Sprinkle with rum or brandy once a week

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