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Every year my husband’s mother sent each of her five children a fruit cake. It was typical – dense, heavy as a brick, and studded with fruit and nuts. When it arrived, my husband would break open the cardboard box, slowly remove the fruit cake and slowly unwrap it from the foil encasement. The cake lasted well over a week, my husband eating a measured piece, carefully, day after day, until it was gone. He would offer me a slice, but I said no. I didn’t like fruit cake. Never did.
This year, his mother was too “old” to make a cake – “old” the word for what happens when a person’s mind and body seem to fade away for no diagnosable reason. So, he decided to make a fruit cake himself, two actually, one for right away and one to bring to his daughter’s house a week later. All night he worked on the cake, mixing flour, blending dried fruit and nuts, stirring them together, blending again, baking until 2:00 in the morning, the recipe covered in flour-dust.
The next day I noticed how carefully he removed the cake from its foil wrap, how carefully he held the knife and placed it into the soft exterior skin, then cut through the ribbons of fruit and nuts. It seemed almost a gentle act, loving, caring for one vulnerable and important.
When he asked me if I wanted a piece, this time I said “yes.”
Is fruit cake part of your holiday baking traditions? Soldiers from the Romans through the Crusades were the first to eat fruit cake. Dense enough to last, calorie filled to fortify, with just the right amount of booze. Here’s a recipe from the Chicago Herald, published in 1891.