Monroeville capitalizes on ‘Memory,’ fruitcakes

Published 1:43 am Saturday, November 21, 2009

Fruitcake isn’t among my must-have holiday favorites, but a short story about making fruitcakes is very high on my holiday list.

So when I read recently that the city famous for being the hometown of “To Kill A Mockingbird was celebrating Truman Capote’s short story “A Christmas Memory” with a fruitcake festival I was there, three family members in tow.

The story is about a boy, Buddy, about age 7, and the 60-year-old cousin who was his caregiver when his mother left him with cousins in Monroeville. The cousin, Nanny Rumbley Faulk, whom Truman called ‘Sook’ both in the short story and in life, is described as having the mind of a 12-year-old.

Sook wakes up on a cool November morning and proclaims it is fruitcake weather. Together, she and “Buddy” gather and shell pecans, scrape together their money and visit a local bootlegger (Monroeville only went wet a few years ago), make fruitcakes and ship them to friends and acquaintances across the country, as well as to those they admire, like the president.

“My mind’s jumping like a jack rabbit,” Sook confesses on Christmas Eve. “Do you think Mrs. Roosevelt will serve our cake at dinner?”

The Monroe County Heritage Museum Endowment Fund’s Fruitcake Festival begins with arts and crafts on the courthouse square, with fruitcakes available in commemorative “Christmas Memory” tins. In Monroeville, I learned that these weren’t “store-bought,” but prepared by a committee of 18 ladies who baked fruitcakes and fruitcake cookies, using the recipes of their choice. Organizers worked with a local grocer, who bought huge quantities of fruit and nuts and sold it to the museum at cost.

Friday’s events ended with a dramatic presentation of the short story by Birmingham storyteller Dolores Hydock. Advertised as a “reading,” all were surprised when Hydock went through the entire story without use of a single note.

The presentation was followed by a reception in the courthouse/museum where a silent auction of fruitcakes prepared by celebrity chefs and accompanied by autographed copies of their cookbooks continued. (Martha Hall Foose, “Screen Doors and Sweet Tea;” Denise Gee, “Southern Cocktails: Dixie Drinks, Party Potions and Classic Libations;” and Scott Wilson, “Dining Under the Magnolia.”)

This year’s fruitcake festival is scarcely a memory, but already work is being planned for next year’s event. Lana Prestridge, who coordinated the fruitcake ladies, is looking for fruitcake recipes. I promised her I’d ask Star-News readers for their favorites, so if you have a good one, send it along and she’ll give you credit in the next year’s cookbook.

And if you have 30 or 45 minutes to spare, sit down with this delightful short story. It will make for a great Christmas Memory.