Traditions connect generations

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The chugging sound of the stand mixer filled the kitchen as I dumped in a final scoop of candied fruit, golden raisins and pecans. It took a while to get to this point but I liked the look of the batter as I lifted the beater.

For the better part of the morning, I chopped fruit, chipped up pecans, and gathered and measured all the ingredients — butter, sugar, eggs, flour, nutmeg, cinnamon and brandy flavoring. Now after careful blending, the mixture was ready for the tube pan and the oven.

It went in for 3 ½ hours, baking slowly and filling the house with a wonderful aroma. The timer sounded and I removed the pan from the oven. Then I drizzled honey over the cake, using it like glue to hold the red and green cherries and pecan halves in place on top of the cake.

Back into the oven it went for another half hour. Finally, out came the finished product ready to cool overnight before I removed it from the pan and wrapped it in cheesecloth soaked in cooking sherry.

I have repeated this process every Christmas for the last few years. Before I started baking the fruitcake, it was my mother-in-law’s labor of love every year. Mom, (I called her Mom because she was like a second mother to me) always had her cake done the day after Thanksgiving, and it was not cut until the week of Christmas.

As her health declined, the baking of the family fruitcake passed to me, something I took pleasure in doing for her. The recipe is one handed down from her mother-in-law and the copy I have is yellow with age.

The first year, the temperature in my oven didn’t match what I set it on and the cake was a little crunchy around the edges. I figured out the problem, adjusted for the difference and the next one came out perfectly. My mother-in-law gave me the highest praise when she said it tasted like hers.

So, I continued cooking the cake and enjoyed watching her enjoy it. Last year when I cut the first slice, Mom didn’t eat too much of the cake. Although she proclaimed it a hit, she said she just didn’t have much appetite for anything.

We didn’t know that we were spending our last Christmas with her, but we knew she was sick and not able to enjoy things like she used to. And she did enjoy this holiday. Mom was like a kid when it came to the sights and sounds of the season. Decorating the house and cooking for her family brought her great joy.

So many memories played in my head as I mixed, baked and decorated the fruitcake. I thought about how my husband always tried to get his mother to cut the cake early. They both knew he would ask, and after much discussion, she’d give in and cut him a sample piece, with the clear understanding that no more cake was coming his way until the week of Christmas.

Yes, I have so many sweet memories of wonderful holidays with this kind and caring woman.

I knew I could skip making the cake this year if I wanted, but some how it didn’t feel like the season really arrived until the foil wrapped cake sat on the counter aging in the sherry soaked cloth. Every time I see it there, I think about Mom and I smile. As crazy as it may sound, that fruitcake makes me feel connected to her, like she is still here for the holidays.

I guess that is what family traditions do for us. They connect us generation to generation. They remind us of all the joyful times and the people who shared them with us.

This year’s cake is done, and in another week or so when I cut it, I will think about Mom and I‘ll know her spirit is with us this Christmas.