I was all suited up and ready to step out the screen door to take a walk, when it started to rain. Really hard. It was 45 degrees out and a big fat worm was slithering across the sidewalk. I reminded myself that, yes, it was Michigan and it was the 27th of December. The weather these days is as nutty as a fruitcake.
Oh yeah – it is “National Fruitcake Day” by the way in case you missed the memo.
Fruitcake gets a bad rap sometimes. It is the bane of many Christmas jokes, like using a fruitcake for a doorstop or wondering how many times you can re-gift the original fruitcake and it is still edible.
And, of course, it’s a great way to describe people and things that are, well … not quite right.
I have never really had a yen for fruitcake. I was more of a “texture-eater” and a nice crunchy cookie would satisfy me much more than a moist and gooey piece of fruitcake. But, I was always polite when offered a slice, and took it and ate it slowly and daintily until the last crumb was gone … preferably with something handy to wash it down with ‘cuz sometimes dry fruitcake could choke a horse.
I really think fruitcake is more of a treat in Canada than over here in the States, and to tell you the truth, living part of my life in Canada, I don’t ever remember fruitcake being something that you joked about. At a Canadian wedding, fruitcake used to be the wedding cake of choice. The top layer of the wedding cake was saved in the freezer to savor at the christening of your first child. I know my parents did that custom as well. Even the Royal Couple had a traditional English fruitcake for their wedding cake.
Growing up, whenever I spent time at my grandmother’s house, if you were going to top off your dinner with something sweet, you’d better believe it was going to be fruitcake. My grandmother was not much of a cook (I took after her in that regard, believe me) and so you would never find batches of cookies cooling on the countertop or packed in some huge ceramic jar that sat in the corner. But what you would find at Nanny’s house was a fruitcake … or two … or three, or maybe even a half-dozen at any given time.
My grandmother was born and raised in Ariss, Ontario which was a tiny farming community near the city of Guelph. She was the only one of the nine siblings to leave Ariss when she went to work in the big city of Toronto at a chocolate factory. She met and married my grandfather who worked in a rubber factory. When her family came to town to visit, they always brought a fruitcake, whether it was Christmastime, or not. Apparently, it was always the right time for fruitcake.
My grandmother had an unheated back kitchen and in the Winter you could hang meat there as it was so cold. So, at any given time, there was always a collection of fruitcakes reposing back there. Some were in fancy tins, some marzipan coatings on top (therefore already hard as a rock) and others in a box bearing the manufacturer’s name. No matter who came to visit my grandmother, they were offered a cup of tea and the usual fare – a ham sandwich and a slice of fruitcake.
My mother similarly liked fruitcake, but she didn’t want to have a one or two-pounder hanging around since she was the only one who really liked it. So, every year, I would buy her the smallest fruitcake available – an 8-ounce “bar” which she’d enjoy at the holidays, then wrap it up and pull it out and have a slice occasionally throughout the rest of the year. It didn’t dry out or get moldy. It was a little too blah for my liking. I didn’t share her enthusiasm for it at all, and, unlike a traditional fruitcake, the brand I got her was not soaked through and through with brandy then covered with a cloth to keep it moist.
In December 2009, the last Christmas before my mom passed away, she was confined to bed. I bought the usual holiday mini-fruitcake at the grocery store, announced its arrival and put it in the fridge. A good friend of my boss named David owned a German store named R. Hirt at Eastern Market. He dropped by the office to give me a goodie basket and a poinsettia for home every Christmas. I was not working on site at the time, so he dropped off his usual basket of goodies, which included a long Christmas stollen and a huge babka. Since both were fruity-type breads, my mom said “okay, we’ll eat David’s treats up but you’ll save my fruitcake and I’ll have it later” … “no problem mom” I said, and I pushed it to the back of the fridge.
Unfortunately “later” never came as my mom passed away a few weeks after that.
Over the next month or so, in clearing out some items in the fridge that my mom liked but were not necessarily my favorite foods, mostly pickles and relishes and such, I came across the fruitcake. My heart did a flip-flop as the words “you’ll save my fruitcake and I’ll have it later” filled me with profound sadness. I left it there at the back of the fridge and told myself “later Linda – you’ll deal with it later” and put it out of my mind.
Now, that skinny, fruit-laden bar certainly has not taken up much space and doesn’t bother anyone languishing at the back of the fridge.
But I know it is there.
Well, okay – you can call me sentimental, but every year at Christmastime I reach back in the fridge and take out that little fruitcake. I hold it up to the light and look through the package – 100% okay. Back into the fridge it goes, standing up in its little corner.
So this year, I picked it up and did the usual inspection all around and put it back. I totally forgot about our power outage right after Labor Day and my fridge was warm when the power came on 24 hours later. At that time I pitched everything in the fridge and freezer since the storm was Friday evening and I didn’t get any ice to preserve my food. The fruitcake was behind a low, flat Tupperware container, so I never thought about it.
Christmas Eve 2014, the weather folks called for high winds and possible power outages … belatedly I remembered that fruitcake.
So, herein lies the dilemma – it may no longer be fit to eat (not that I intended to eat it), but does it stay or does it go?
After five long years, I’ve decided perhaps it is time to part with that fruitcake – I think my mom would understand.
“When someone is in your heart, they’re never truly gone. They can come back to you, even at unlikely times.” ~Mitch Albom (from “For One More Day”)