This is one of my favorite celebrations of the year because it gives all Fruitcake Lovers a chance to stand united and unabashedly proclaim their love of fruitcake!
My appreciation of fruitcake was not recognized until well into my adulthood, even though my mom made this a favorite holiday tradition she kept faithfully year after year.
Come November, Mom would pull out her beloved and tattered recipe, make a shopping list of the ingredients. Beginning just before Thanksgiving, Mom would buy the candied fruits, the pecans, the dates and raisins, and lovingly stack them on the counter by the fridge until the first week of December. Money was tight back then, and to buy everything in one stop would impact the family of six weekly food budget. She always put her daughters first, wearing Dr. Scholl’s sandals and socks in the winter so we could have boots and warm clothes. But when it came to splurging on fruitcake ingredients, she figured out how to do it with the least impact to her family.
I remember Mom lovingly stirring the ingredients together, pouring them into individual small loaf pans intended as gifts, then set them in the oven to bake for an hour at 275 F. She always put a lot of effort, a lot of love, into this tradition and carefully considered who would be blessed with a fruitcake each year. Her four daughters, her brother- and sister-in-law, and her mother were always definite recipients.
We would tease her about her fruitcake passion, but each year she would give us a loaf wrapped in shiny silver tinfoil with a bow on top. Some of us would eat it, some would toss it, and others would hide it in their pantry to be forgotten. It was Mom’s thing, and she didn’t care about the jokes at all. She would eye us knowingly, waiting patiently for us to one day figure it out.
For me, that happened in December, 2012, the first Christmas after she passed away. I finally got it, and picked up the torch that had been handed me with a sense of urgency I’d never known. I began stockpiling the ingredients a little later than she had, but nevertheless, my quest to carry on her tradition was born.
Nine years later, I’m still missing Mom. In her honor each year, I have continued carrying on her tradition. I remember that first Christmas I took over. As I looked in the bowl of mixed ingredients I remembered. As I poured the batter into individual loaf pans, I recalled her doing the very same thing. As they baked, I pondered who would be the lucky giftee of a tiny fruitcake, wrapped in tinfoil with a bow on top.
This year the fruitcakes almost didn’t get baked, despite all the ingredients stockpiled in the corner of my kitchen. But the night before Christmas Eve the calling came. As if Mom had channeled her fruitcake-baking-energy from Beyond the Veil, although I was exhausted, I stirred the ingredients together, noticing how much my hands resembled hers.
Traditional Christmas classics played, two cups of coffee (one for me, one for her) were poured, and we shared the same conversation we have since she passed and I began the Fruitcake Tradition. I told her how much I loved following in her footsteps. And she told me to add a bit more cinnamon. This year she also gave me permission to adapt the recipe and add almonds if I wanted to. So I did.
Later, after the loafs were baked and cooled, I wrapped them in parchment paper and tinfoil and thanked her for instilling in me her love of fruitcake, tradition, and giving.
My kids are grown, and they now have been handed the torch of teasing me about fruitcake and I wonder who, in years down the road, will carry on the Fruitcake Tradition when I am sitting Beyond the Veil with my mother once again, drinking coffee and eating fruitcake as we watch on, guiding them through the process. I’m not sure if National Fruitcake Day was around when Mom was alive. But if we’d known about it, we would have celebrated together. So, today my sister is coming by for coffee, and I’m going to slice up a piece of fruitcake. We are going to raise our mugs high and toast Mom for all the love she gave, and the traditions she left behind with her passing.
Happy National Fruitcake Day!