Mamma’s Fruit Cake… by JoAnn

A woman holding a cake in front of her face.

This time of year is sentimental to just about everyone.  There’s a reason we call it the holidays.  We all seem to have our own set of special memories.  Some good, some bad, some kinda in between.  But I think most of us have fond memories this time of the year, especially from our childhood.  

This year has been especially trying for me and my whole family.  We have each spoken of how we are just ready for the holidays to be over.  We are done with 2018.  This laid heavy on my heart.  I didn’t want this feeling to take over my soul.  I wanted to at least appreciate, if I couldn’t enjoy, the special meanings behind the holidays.  And that’s when it happened.  I began to reminisce about holidays past.  Way in the past!  And I began to feel joy.  Not a lot, but enough to bring a smile to my face, and soothe my grieving heart.

As an adult, many of us look back on our childhood as simpler times.  Not always perfect, or happy, but simpler.  And with the stresses of adulthood, simpler sounds so good!  So why not take advantage of the one time of the year that we can fully embrace the memories of being a child?  So young, innocent, trusting, imaginative, in a way  only know once in our lifetime.

When I was a small girl, over fifty years ago, the holidays were such an easy time.  Or so they seemed.  I had no idea of the stresses that my parents and other adults still had to deal with at this time of year.  All I knew was the euphoria of magic this season held.  Mostly thanks to my mama.  She worked hard for my sister and I to always have a wonderful Christmas.  The entire month of December was one day after another filled with pure joy and magic!  Or so I remember it that way. 

The first thing my mother would do would be the shopping.  Not just shopping for Christmas gifts, but for ingredients to all her recipes that we only had the pleasure of savoring once a year. Number one on the list, my mama’s famous fruit cake.  It was my favorite!

Oh, I know, you all are probably thinking, fruitcake?!  Yuck!  But I assure you, we are not talking the typical,store bought, over baked, brick of a fruit cake here.  We are talking a homemade cake that was made with as much love as it contained ingredients. 

My mama started her fruit cake with a spiced applesauce cake base.  She then added a very generous amount of candied cherries, candied pineapple, dates, figs, golden raisins, walnuts and extra, extra, pecans!  The thick batter would be poured into a huge tube cake pan that had been well greased with shortening, and the bottom covered with a perfectly cut out circle of wax paper. 

It was an exciting day when that cake went into the oven!  It would be the only thing planned for that day.  My mother being a perfectionist, everything had to go according to her plan.  No step could be rushed.  No ingredients could be forgotten or substituted.  And absolutely no one, I mean no one, could even step foot in the kitchen while her fruit cake baked, much less go near that oven door!  

I could not wait till that cake came out of the oven.  It would bake for what seemed like hours and the aroma would fill the entire house.  Even though we knew we would not be slicing that cake for a couple weeks, we just wanted to see it!  Would it be perfectly browned, or would Mama be upset that it had gotten too dark?  There was a fine line in getting that thick batter completely done without over baking.  It was a good day when Mama removed her prized fruit cake from the oven and a big smile would come over her face.  I loved seeing that look on my beautiful mother.

After the cake was cooled, and removed from the pan,it would then be placed in my mama’s cake tin.  Reynolds wrap would cover the sides tightly.  In the cake’s center, the hole would be filled with a small shot glass of orange juice.  This kept the cake moist and was replaced each day with fresh.  This sounds like a chemistry experiment, but it worked.  My mama didn’t mess around.  She knew exactly what she was doing.

But to make sure absolutely every detail was perfect,the fruit cake had to be weighed.  Yes, weighed.  If the cake did not weigh at least 10 pounds, my mama would be disappointed and start questioning what she had done wrong.  Not enough nuts, not enough fruit, too little this or that?  But as you can already imagine, it was always near or above the 10-poundmark my mother had set.

Being a kid, we would usually forget about that neatly tucked away fruit cake in the two weeks we had to wait.  That time was for playing around the Christmas tree, wrapping gifts, shaking gifts, looking over the Sear’s Christmas Catalog over and over, and if we were lucky, playing outside in the snow.   

Then after weeks of anticipation, Christmas morning would appear.  It would be filled with the sound of ripping paper, squeals of joy and excitement, the smell of a fresh new baby doll, and a turkey roasting in the oven.  

My sister and I would enjoy our new toys as Mama prepared her delicious dressing and mashed potatoes to go along with the turkey.  I can vouch that her dressing was the best part of the meal!  She took as much pride in that as she did the fruit cake. 

Ahhh, the fruit cake!  Much later after dinner, out would come the cake tin that held the 10-pound circle of Christmas delight in every bite.  Everyone watched as the first slice was taken.  With our mouths watering, the anticipation was over.  We finally got to taste this year’s fruit cake.   We were never, not once, disappointed.  One time a year we were treated to one of the most delicious desserts I have ever experienced.  The cake was super moist, and so aromatic.  You may think a 10-pound fruit cake would be heavy, but it was actually quite delicate.  Each ingredient just seemed to play off the others.  If just one were missing it wouldn’t be the same.  My mama knew what she was doing. 

After growing up and having a family of my own, I tried a few times to duplicate my mama’s fruit cake.  I never succeeded.  Maybe I’ll try again some Christmas in her memory.  How proud she would be if I got it right, and if it weighed the correct amount.  I know I could really use a slice of my mama’s fruit cake this Christmas but the memories I have are almost as good and I’m very thankful for them.  

Here’s hoping your holiday memories are good ones too.  Merry Christmas.