Thursday, January 3, 2008

Fruitcake. . . . Or, How the Bubble Finally Popped.

Fruitcake was always a mystery to me. I mean, how could a dessert, that was so varied in its appearances, so long-lived in the history of cooking, have gotten such a bad rap? My great-grandmother on my father's side spent years perfecting her fruitcake recipe. Her hand-written cookery journal holds at least five different versions. And of the hundreds of cookbooks I've read over the years, I've seen as many different recipes.

So what's the deal? Surely, a sweet bread holding all this attention was worth the effort? Who cares if it needs to be carefully sawed through with a serrated blade?

How did it happen that ducking neighborly deliveries of fruitcake became a household joke around the holidays? Was commercial-mass production really to blame, as historians say?

Having grown up in a rather rural, mountainous area, I never quite grew to understand that spirited animosity. Partly I suppose, because unlike Urban/Suburbanites, we simply didn't have all that many neighbors. And partly I suppose, because thanks to a grandmother and mother who like to bake, I grew up liking fruitcake.

Yes, I grew up liking fruitcake. Eating fruitcake.

Devouring it, at the holidays, I'll admit. Just like this last one.

I'd forgotten my fondness for this dessert, actually. Having dismissed fruitcake as a dessert not worth making, thanks to popular opinion, I never bothered; and TIME, that tricky enigma, shuffled such memories to the darkest, deepest depths of my mind.

But thanks to Mom, who always has a way of doing something extra-special--who took the time to dig out Grandma's recipes and get to work long before the holidays began--those memories came flooding back this Christmas.

My grandmother, when she was living, made a great fruitcake. She'd send it out to us from Minnesota, along with her Norwegian lefse and a dozen or so cookies that she called rocks. The rocks, I didn't much care for, but the lefse and fruitcake . . . they were my favorites.

Funny, how I never quite connected THAT fruitcake -- the one my grandmother made -- with the other one -- the one everyone else seemed to hate, or pretended to hate when the holidays rolled around. Such is childhood. The bubble-world of every child's universe.

... I, for one, am so glad it finally popped. Because this year -- 12 months from now, I intend on jumping into the world of fruitcake preparation. Yep. I do.

So, neighbors and friends, watch out! I certainly hope that you'll rediscover, like I did, that fruitcake is so much worth it's every last ounce in gold, and then some.

I guess that's one New Year's resolution I'll work to keep: learn to make fruitcake.

Happy New Year!