Skip to content

“Honey, your annual brick has arrived!”

December 26, 2011

We’re using the Temperist Tuesday tag for this post as we would consider the subject of fruitcake enjoyment to be an “other advocacy interest.”

This is how my much-loved husband would greet me, upon coming home from the mailbox on the day that my homemade fruitcake arrived in the mail.  Every year, he’d tease me about how my Grandmother (who was the Keeper of the Fruitcake Recipe for our family) was very thoughtful, but if she really wanted to help us build our own house, she needed to send more than one brick a year.

I, of course, would respond with some appropriately acerbic response.

Look, I know most people hate fruitcake, but I grew up on it. Every year, as soon as the stores would sell the brightly-colored, candied chopped fruits, the ghastly green, dried and candied maraschino cherries, and the figs, Grandma would start making fruitcake. As a small child, I’d sit in the kitchen and watch her. As a teenager, on the rare occasion she made the cakes when I wasn’t at school, I’d be allowed to grease the paper bags for the pans.

I always loved the designs she put on the top of the fruitcakes (for the 5 pound round ones, a cherry with four half pecans radiating out from it, alternated with a pineapple ring; on the 2.5 pound loaf ones, the pineapple ring was in the middle with the cherry/pecan on each end).  I wish I could say it had something to do with Sun/Son symbolism, but most likely it was just because “that’s the way it was always done.”

Our side of the family almost didn’t get the fruitcake recipe. It was a very closely-guarded secret in my Grandfather’s family. The recipe was handed down from mother to daughter, when the mother felt the daughter was responsible enough (or maybe a good enough cook) to make the fruitcake. Since my Grandma wasn’t part of the “mother-to-daughter” lineage, and her family didn’t have a fruitcake recipe of their own, we almost missed out on it.

However, Grandpa had an ace up his sleeve. See, he was a printer from a family of printers. Or, more specifically, he was a typesetter (in all printing pre-early 80’s, one of the stages was to have the article/book/whatever set in type for the printing presses). This means he knew how to read upside down and backwards. (Aside:  The old fashioned admonition to be careful, “Watch your Ps and Qs” comes from the printing business, and was originally, “Watch your Bs and Ds and Ps and Qs” because, upside down, p and q and b and d look remarkably alike, and your brain wants to read them as normal right-side-up letters.  But I digress.)

He went to his aunt’s house, the one who was the Keeper of the Recipe in that generation, on the day she was making the fruitcakes for the entire family. She knew the recipe by heart, but would always put the recipe card on the table where she was working, just to make sure she didn’t miss anything. Grandpa knew this and counted on her not remembering that as a printer, he could read upside down and backwards. She didn’t remember, he read and memorized the recipe, drove home as fast as he could and wrote down the recipe for Grandma.

Even though Grandma’s family had no tradition of fruitcake, nor any tradition of “you’ll get the recipe when you’re ready for it,” Grandma took to the tradition. The only people she’s ever given the recipe to have been my mother and myself. No, her daughters-in-law don’t have the recipe, nor do the other female grandchildren (Grandma raised me, and so is more mother than grandmother to me). The day she mailed me the recipe, I knew I was an adult in her eyes. This was a better indication than being allowed to sit at the “Adult Table” at holidays!

So, my fruitcake is rich with family tradition, espionage (okay, family espionage, but Grandpa really did go over to his Aunt’s house that day to spy on her and obtain that recipe through covert methods), and… well… it just TASTES good!

I mean, how can one NOT like all those fruits and nuts, barely held together by a batter, and drenched in good Scotch? Oh, did I forget to mention that my family’s recipe has enough liquor in it to put a 5-year-old child to sleep for a nice long nap? 😉

I know many people hate fruitcakes. It’s the food that’s lumped in with gefilte fish that’s okay for everybody to poke fun at. And, truth be told, the fruitcake I make and love is probably the typical “brick” that people love to hate (and love to toss at the local-ish “Fruitcake Tossing Festival” in early January).  But for me, it is, and always will be, steeped in lots of family tradition and warm memories of the days I’d watch Grandma make the fruitcake. Oh yeah, and the high quality Scotch!

6 Comments leave one →
  1. December 26, 2011 10:59 am

    Your grandfather was a clever man!

    My family only recently adopted the tradition of fruitcake. It started with a Paula Deen recipe 6 years ago and has snowballed into semi-competitive fruitcake baking between my mother and myself 🙂

  2. Fab@54 permalink
    December 26, 2011 11:37 am

    Great Story! Love your Gran’pa’s secret agent deal… LOL

  3. vesta44 permalink
    December 26, 2011 12:28 pm

    Love your secret agent Grandpa story, and home-made fruitcake beats store-bought fruitcake hands down! My grandmother’s sister made fruitcakes and they were delicious, but the recipe disappeared when she died. Grandma didn’t get it and my great-aunt’s daughter didn’t get it either. I think Aunt Ruth hid it too well for anyone to find, which was a great loss to our family, we looked forward to Christmas every year and her fruitcakes.

  4. December 26, 2011 2:00 pm

    Way to go Grandpa!!!!!

    We didn’t get fruitcake this year, I don’t think my mom made any 😦 She makes killer fruitcake and both hubby and I love it. Problem now is I can’t eat gluten and hubby is forbidden alcohol. I will have to see about getting mom’s recipe and see if I can figure out an us friendly version.

  5. December 27, 2011 1:52 pm

    My family used to make a great fruitcake. My mother found a recipe that did not include the vile candied fruit from hell. Instead it was made with maraschino cherries and brazil nuts and was not too sweet. It was the best ever! Unfortunately I can’t cook worth crap so I can’t duplicate it. I sure miss it.

  6. December 29, 2011 10:38 am

    What an adorable story! Your grandfather is awesome. I can’t say I’ve ever actually tried fruitcake, but if you have some on hand when we meet, I’ll definitely try it. Thank you for sharing this touching story of your family’s connection. It made me so happy to read it!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: