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Fond of famous fruitcakes?

When I was at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum last month in New Orleans, La., I noticed an exhibit about food associated with Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.

The folks in Monroeville had even done a cookbook to capitalize on her fame. Nell Harper Lee is notoriously averse to publicity and disliked the idea. The sale of the books was stopped and the cookbook is hard to find these days. Monroevillians are at it again though. I noticed in “Alabama Living,” November 2009, that Monroeville was celebrating the second annual Fruitcake Festival. I noticed this too late to plan a trip, but maybe next November. This festival capitalizes on their other world famous author, Truman Capote – in particular the holiday dessert immortalized in Capote’s holiday classic short story, A Christmas Memory. Fruitcakes are for sale, made by the ladies of Monroeville, using family recipes, also kites are sold memorializing the kites in the story.

We became particularly acquainted with the works of Truman Capote when we lived in Wilmington, N.C.

The city became Hollywood East after it was discovered by Dino de Laurentiis when he chose to film Stephen King’s Firestarter in the early 80s. In 1995, the filmers of Capote’s short story One Christmas chose our house because it looked like New Orleans, where part of the story takes place.

It was billed as Katherine Hepburn’s last movie and also featured Henry Winkler. We had a lot of fun especially with the “Fonze.” We had to move out of the house, but we spent a lot of our free time watching the filming and came to know the actors and production staff. One time I was asking around for our son Luke. Henry heard me and when he ran up the stairs in a sequence of the film, he changed his lines when he arrived at the top of the stairs, “Has anybody seen Luke? His mother is looking for him.” Cut! Cut!

Capote is most famous, I think, for In Cold Blood. He is less well known for his story Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the movie version of which is best known for its star Audrey Hepburn. But as we began looking into more of Capote’s works, we found the short story collection of A Thanksgiving Visitor, One Christmas, and A Christmas Memory. My husband began a search for even more when we moved to Gantt and realized we were but a short distance from Monroeville. We discovered a distant cousin of Truman Streckfus Persons (Capote’s name before he was adopted by his stepfather) in Andalusia. And we even discovered a Gantt connection. Marianne Moates, who was from Andalusia, lived in Monroeville for a time and wrote a book of Truman’s Southern years. One of Truman’s Faulk cousins asked Marianne one day, “How’s Nellie?” Surprised, she replied, “My mother in law?…How do you know her?”

He said, “Years ago, when I was a boy living in Troy, I’d ride my horse over to visit some of my family near Andalusia. I used to date a pretty girl there by the name of Nellie Gantt.” That was Jim Moates’ mother and Marianne’s mother-in-law.

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“It’s fruitcake weather,” said Buddy’s elderly friend and companion on one November morning in rural Alabama in the 1930s. They go with their dog and collect nuts in an old baby carriage. They get out their savings to buy whiskey…

A Christmas Memory is a memoir of Truman’s childhood with his 60-year-old cousin Sook, who filled a void for Truman as a surrogate parent as well as a friend. Truman’s inscription of The Grass Harp “For Miss Sook Faulk, In memory of affections deep and true” could be the theme for the short story trilogy as well. If you haven’t read them – do! Or maybe get the CD’s and watch them while making your fruitcake.

Sook’s fruitcake

2 ½ lbs Brazil nuts

2 ½ lbs white and dark raisins, mixed

½ lb candied cherries

½ lb candied pineapple

1 lb Citron

½ lb blanched almonds

½ lb pecan halves

½ lb Black walnuts

½ lb dried figs

1 tbsp nutmeg

1 tbsp cloves

2 tbsp grated bitter chocolate

8 oz grape jelly

8 oz grape juice

8 oz Bourbon whiskey

1 tbsp cinnamon

1 tbsp allspice

2 cups butter

2 cups sugar

12 eggs

4 cups flour

Cut the fruits and nuts into small pieces, and coat them with some of the flour. Cream the butter and sugar together, adding one egg at a time, beating well. Add the rest of the flour to the butter/sugar mix. Add the floured fruits and nuts, spices, seasoning, and flavorings. Mix by hand.

Line a large cake tin with wax paper, grease, then flour. Pour the mixture into the pan and put it in a steamer over cold water.

Close the steamer and bring the water to a rolling boil. Lower the heat and steam the cake for about four and a half hours. Preheat oven to around 250 degrees, and bake for one hour.

Sook and Buddy gave theirs away to friends and strangers. Have a Merry Christmas!