Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Hand Over the Fruitcake, Please

Shopping for fruitcake has been an interesting experience and I've come across quite a few variations on the fruitcake theme, including a monastery in Oregon that sells 6 slices of fruitcake covered in chocolate for almost as much as a whole tinned fruitcake. Maybe not. Don't think the fruitcake is like Boston brown bread steamed in a tin but one of those lovely tins that Gram used to save buttons in with holiday pictures and traditional holiday and Jacobean pattern paintings. There was one tin, which I still have, that was covered in a classic Wedgwood pattern in blue and white, that lovely Wedgwood blue that is so indicative of real Wedgwood china. The paper's torn in a couple of places, but the tin is still good and full of buttons Gram collected and I inherited, some of which are gone because I used them on outfits I made here and there.

What I don't get are the jokes about fruitcake. Yes, it's heavy (weight-wise) because of all the fruit and nuts (my favorite always had pecans) packed inside, and the cake itself is dense, but a good fruitcake that's aged in whiskey or brandy is a rich and delectable treat that spells Christmas for me as surely as flaming plum pudding does for some Englishmen (and women, too). Our holidays when Gram was alive was not complete unless there was fruitcake, great thick slabs of it glistening with glaceed fruit and redolent of brandy. I don't know that Mom was so persnickety in those days because she even had a piece, despite her no alcohol in the food stance. Eating the whole fruitcake wouldn't have been even close to enough to get anyone drunk, not even a newborn, if the child had the teeth and taste buds to be able to enjoy the treat, but that's a story for another time. This time it's about fruitcake.

I guess because of all the nuts and fruit, that's why fruitcake became another word for a score sheet full of gutter balls or a few bricks shy a load. Just another way to call someone insane -- or nearly there.

And then there are the jokes about fruitcakes so heavy they were used as bricks to build a grill outside after years of fruitcakes had piled up in the basement, still inedible and fireproof to boot. Or that someone threw a piece of fruitcake and knocked out their spouse, as if that is even possible. Talk about hyperbole. It's all about taste, and a good fruitcake is packed with taste, and those that love fruitcake will agree, it's not Christmas without it.

It wouldn't be human without contention and disagreement, choosing up sides to fire off against opponents. What is it about people that they just can't enjoy themselves and allow others to do the same, even if what they enjoy isn't what you enjoy? There are so many things in life to choose that it is a waste of time to sneer at others who choose something else. People able to afford cashmere give the cold shoulder to someone wearing a polyester blend sweater or a cardigan someone knitted or crocheted as a gift. Drivers of BMWs thumb their noses at drivers of Mercedes and Volvos who in turn look down their noses at anyone who drives a Ford Taurus or Chevy Cavalier, and all of them look enviously at the couple with the top down driving the vintage Ford Mustang or classic Jaguar or Spider. It's plain to see they like what they bought, so there's no reason to denigrate someone who either couldn't afford or preferred another type of car.

We're all about contention and disagreement. My mother is famous for it, calling me up just to argue because no one in Ohio will argue with her and she knows I will -- or rather I did until I figured out that was her game. She picks and pushes buttons until I -- or anyone else -- respond and push back, verbally of course. Luckily, I live far enough away so that it doesn't matter if I decide to make or buy a fruitcake. It's too late to make one, although I have the cheese cloth and the liquor store isn't far away, because I don't have a month or two until Christmas to age the fruitcake properly in the closet soaking in rum or brandy or whisky. It takes time to make a fruitcake the right way, the traditional way.

In the meantime, I'll keep looking and avoid the place where I bought one last year. I got a tiny fruitcake, hardly more than 2 good slabs, for $30 and I want fruitcake to spare for the holiday, or until the new year, whichever comes first. Mock me if you will, call me names, and snicker when you read this, but I will enjoy every morsel and crumb of my holiday tradition and you can enjoy yours, even if it does involve a liquor-soaked flaming plum pudding.

Come to think of it, I need a good old-fashioned mincemeat pie, too, just like the one Mrs. Jonathan Frake won the blue ribbon for at the Iowa State Fair.

Happy holidays.

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