No one light a match…
Gatherings with my family meant food. Among siblings, we were cooks, bakers, or buyers. I wished I could become a buyer of premade food like my youngest sister, but I have masochist tendencies.
Instead, I asked my parents what kind of dessert they wanted. Dad said, “fruitcake with rum like my sister Carrie used to make for Christmas.” I thought, couldn’t I just bring rum?, but that would’ve been easy.
Aunt Carrie passed away twenty years ago. Her children were mostly boys. I doubted that they had saved her fruitcake recipe. Even if my cousins kept the recipe, I didn’t look forward to cake with fruit that reminded me of plastic. I never foraged in the wild for electric green cherries. Christmas was over. Where would I get fake fruit?
Dad described his sister’s fruitcake as having raisins and spices, doused with rum, and wrapped in cloth. If you put raisins in haggis, Dad would eat it.
I scoured the internet for a comparable recipe with raisins and enough booze so the cake wouldn’t get stale while wrapped in cloth. What kind of cloth, though? Was it flannel, silk, a hankie?
There were rules I followed for recipes. If the instructions and ingredients required two pages, I wasn’t attempting it. Any recipe that listed capers, citron, or other obscure ingredients was off limits. What were those things?
I settled on a recipe that met most of Dad’s requirements except that the recipe used real fruit and brandy. I was upfront about the brandy substitution. My family had discernible booze palates and wouldn’t have been fooled.
The only slightly odd ingredient was lemon zest. I figured I’d be able to handle a few bald lemons in the refrigerator until I used the fruit for something else.
What I found a tad frightening was that the fruitcake had to be baked two weeks before you planned to serve it. You baked a half a cup of brandy into the cake. Then I had to dribble two tablespoons of booze over the cake everyday for two weeks.
Not wanting to fuzz up the baked goods, I deviated from cloth and settled on foil to cover the cake. It was a good choice. By day seven, the cake was flammable.
Three days before our event, the cake wasn’t taking on any more liquid. A moat of brandy formed around the outside. The center of the cake held another pool of amber liquid. Imagine explaining to a police officer, “No sir, I haven’t been drinking. I ate a piece of cake.”
The fruitcake weighed ten pounds. It was clear that I’d have to use the bald lemons to make an alternate dessert for my underage nieces.
Then a cousin found his mother’s fruitcake recipe. Too late. I had too much fruit, walnuts, and booze invested in the current substitute.
Taste would tell. The store bought food sister said, “My tongue’s numb like it was shot with Novocain.” Great, now I’m also a sadist.
My brother commented that the cake had a cloying flavor, a cross between a cinnamon stick and an overpowering candle that you could taste when lit. He also said the cake might be great as a breath freshener. It stayed with you like Big Red gum.
My sister who doesn’t swear said, “Shit!” and spit her cake into a napkin.
Mom didn’t taste it. She reminded me that she couldn’t digest nuts. Chicken.
Dad and I ate a big chunk. He loved it or so he said. My chronic toothache subsided. Maybe it was the cloves or I was too loaded to feel pain.
My siblings proceeded to figure out ways to recycle the cake. Fire starter was suggested as was setting the cake outside as chum to kill the groundhog that ate Dad’s garden last summer.
Groundhogs hibernate. Unless the cake lasted until spring, it would only end up stoning a few deer.
Six weeks later, Dad and I were down to our last pieces of cake. It was as moist as day one without mold or artificial preservatives.
Next family event, I’d buy an apple pie and sip two tablespoons of brandy everyday for two weeks.