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Fruitcake Holidays

December 24, 2015


I recall a photograph taken on Easter morning when I was about three years old. I stood with my sister who would have been about two and held the hand of one parent while the other snapped the photograph on an old Kodak Reflex Camera, the kind where you looked down into the top into mirrors that framed your upside-down image. I wore an immaculate suit with short pants and white shoes. In the picture, my sister is similarly well dressed in the pastels that would remind any viewer of the photo of the occasion.

We stood next to a huge easter basket draped in colored cellophane that, in addition to candy and eggs, had fruit. Today, with a bag of clementines sitting a few steps away from me, that basket seems less than remarkable, until I remember that getting any fruit in the Minnesota climate that time of year required a feat beyond the reaches of the every-day grocery logistics. It was a time when “not in season” meant it was scarce.

If I jump a generation back, there are no pictures of my father with fruit on Easter. It was not just that fruit was hard to get that time of year. It was harder to get, period.

During the holidays of my childhood, my uncle would often send us a fruitcake. For us kids, the candied fruit was not quite sweet enough, a far-too-complicated taste on the unsophisticated tongues of children whose taste buds were cultivated on fresh fruit and refined sugar candy. Dad’s taste buds, on the other hand, were cultivated during the depression, where much of the food came from what was raised in the yard, what could be bought in bulk at the dry goods store or the cheaper cuts of protein that were often cast-offs of animal carcuses remaining ofter the white and wealthy citizens took their cut.

Fruitcake was a remarkable delicacy. To have fruit, to preserve it for what seems like forever, candy it, put it through a process that could deliver it to some lucky mouth–this is a treat. At least it is to dad. Even though it has been a long time since I have seen a fruitcake in my parents’ house, I know it is a precious delight that comes in the brick of a package and is the butt of so many jokes.

My siblings and I make eyes at each other at the sight of the fruitcake, knowing that dad will offer with the expectation and delight that the he will get to eat most of it himself. I don’t know that he really wants a whole fruitcake in the house. Healthy eating is not always consistent with the consumption of a whole fruitcake.

A healthy sense of humor might lead one to comparisons to a door stop or Jonathan Winters. A healthy sense of perspective could hint to the delight experienced by a little boy in 1939 as this amazing assortment of fruit, nuts, maybe brandy and a few other things that glisten to the eyes and tease the stomach.

Dad also likes licorice and each Easter when we were kids, we would fish the black jelly beans out of our baskets and make a pile of them for dad to eat. Dad ate a lot of stuff when we were kids that we didn’t like. Grits. Sardines. All the broken cookies and scarred fruit that wrinkled our noses. And the fruitcake.

I still am not a fan of fruitcake, but but maybe my grown-up taste buds need to revisit the flavor. I had to take my hat off when I saw that a friend of my generation concocting the melange in her kitchen. It is a worthy pursuit. I hope there is someone who will enjoy the loaf with as much savor as my admiration.

The weather might not seem right this holiday, but at least one tration lives on. Have a great holiday season!

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Mary Turck permalink
    December 24, 2015 6:08 pm

    This brings back memories! Fruit cake, date loaf, and the stories of my parents’ childhood Christmases when one orange in a Christmas stocking was a huge treat.

  2. Tamra Falk permalink
    December 25, 2015 3:21 pm

    Great musings, Clarence! Love, Tamra

  3. December 25, 2015 11:20 pm

    Oh, what a lovely memory. For my Scandinavian friends, the love it-hate it food was lutefisk. For our family (Alsatian/German/Irish) , it was homemade red sweet-sour cabbage and pork loin, very tasty going down but producing flatulence of heroic proportions in some of my relatives. These days, my husband’s family enthusiastically wolfs down brussels sprouts, a thing I can’t abide even when disguised with bacon and other condiments… each family, its own holiday culinary delight or disaster. Merry memories at the table, everyone, and bon appetit!

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