Fruit cake time is here again

The pantry in my Grandmama’s house was a treasure cave. It joined the kitchen and the dining room, with swinging doors at each entrance. Inside the pantry were shelves on three walls reaching all the way to the 14-foot ceiling.[cointent_lockedcontent]

olivia6-25 Page 4A.inddAnd on those shelves were rows and rows of fruit jars filled with vegetable soup, asparagus, green beans, tomatoes, peaches, pickles and jellies. Big bags of sugar and flour were kept on the bottom shelves next to stores of other kitchen necessities.

Against one wall stood a pie safe where pies and cakes were stored for family get-togethers and a sturdy table used for meat cutting and other food-prep functions.

In the fall after hog killing, the table would be scoured and returned to the pantry in readiness for the next project.

The fat links of sausage hung in the smokehouse, and the last ham had been prepared for curing.

It was time to make the fruit cakes. Everyone in the household was involved in this. As Grandmama always said, “Many hands make light the work.”

Grandchildren were a source of free labor, and we were set to the task of cracking pecans and picking out the meats. This was demanding work, as it was vital that no bits of bitter shell should be mixed in with the nut meats.

There were always two huge fruit cakes to be assembled. One was Mama’s favorite, a white fruit cake. Uncle Walter and Matt preferred the dark fruit cake.

The white fruit cake had golden raisins and slivered almonds, and the dark one had dark raisins and pecans. Sultanas, citron and different candied fruits like pineapple and cherries were used.

The huge crockery bowls would come out, dozens of eggs would be separated, and the process of slicing, dicing, chopping, beating and whipping would go into high gear.

The heavy metal tube pans would be brought out. Children were good for tearing off sections of waxed paper, setting the pans on the paper and for drawing around the bottom of the pans and inside the circular tube to get a perfect fit. The sides, bottoms and tubes were thoroughly greased with Crisco, the wax paper circle was carefully pressed in the bottom and then the paper itself was greased.

All the candied fruits would be coated with flour and folded into the stiff batter. This took muscle, and Uncle Walter or Matt would do this.

Then the batters would be poured into the pans, and into the oven they’d go.

After about an hour and a half of baking, the cakes would be pulled out and a long, clean broom straw would be inserted into the cake. If no crumbs clung to it when the straw was withdrawn, the cake was judged done and removed to cool.

There were large round tin containers waiting for the cakes.

Each tin would have a clean dishcloth laid in the bottom. The cooled cakes would be turned into the cake tins, wine would be dribbled by the tablespoon over the cakes, and then they’d be wrapped with the dish towel and the lids would be snapped into place.

And then, for the next few weeks before Christmas, the process of wine dribbled across the cake would be repeated at regular intervals. The cakes had to ripen before they were sliced. The slices had to be thin and when held to the light appear translucent.

We always thought sliced fruit cake looked like stained glass windows. It was part of the ritual approaching Christmas, and even now just seeing a picture of a real fruit cake brings it all back. I’m thankful to have the memory of that special time.[/cointent_lockedcontent]