Some will smile with delightful anticipation…some will screw up their faces in distaste. Such is the essence of fruitcake, it seems — you either love it or hate it.
I am of the camp that loves it. The rich, buttery aroma of those heavily fruited cakes is as much a Christmas tradition to me as the tree itself. Of course, it wasn’t always that way.
When I was a little girl, my mother always made two fruitcakes every year — one light, and one dark. On a day that was deemed “just right” for the long, slow bake — perhaps one of those days when the air smelled like snow — she would get up extra early in the morning, cut and flour the huge mixing bowls of nuts, raisins, and candied fruit and set out the rest of the ingredients to come to room temperature. Pounds of rich butter (margarine or shortening won’t do for fruitcakes!) and a dozen eggs warmed on the counter. And then came the arduous task of mixing it all together and putting it into the prepared pans. The kitchen would soon be filled with the wonderful aroma of spices and butter, molasses and dark sugar. I would be shooed into another room to play lest my jumping around would make the cakes “fall”.
When the cakes were finally ready to come out of the oven, there was such excitement and nervous anticipation as they cooled a few minutes in their pans. Then they would be turned out onto racks to cool with proud exclamations of how “perfectly golden” and “wonderfully moist” the cakes were. When fully cooled, they were wrapped in a layer of brandy soaked cheesecloth, then plastic wrap, and then stored in cake tins from the 1950′s that were just the right size for the cakes. They were left to “season” in a cool, dark place until the ceremonious first taste.
Then one day in December, my Mom and her best friend, Florence (my godmother), would share the ritual of the first cut over several cups of tea in china cups, always pronouncing that, indeed, that year’s cake outshone all those that had gone before.
It took me a while to warm up to fruitcake, and I never did develop a close relationship with the dark cakes, but I eventually came to look forward to the fudgy, golden goodness of the light ones. My Mom hasn’t made fruitcakes, light or dark, for a few years now. Manipulating the heavy batter bothers her arthritic hands and arms and, though I completely understand why she gave up the ritual, I must say that the lead up to Christmas doesn’t seem quite the same without this long-standing tradition.
So, I’ve taken over the baking of the fruit cakes. Rather than make one large cake, I usually bake three smaller ones and share them with my parents, Charlie’s folks, and keep one for
us me. Charlie and none of our daughters can stand fruitcake — which leaves all the more for me. :)
How about you? Love it, or hate it?