Christmas is always about past and present. Today’s celebrations are inextricably linked to the sights, sounds, smells and people of bygone holidays.
Every yuletide, my brothers and I recall the Goodyear Christmas Album – received as a “premium” at the local tire store – which was the musical accompaniment to our holidays when we were young. I can still hear Robert Goulet crooning “Do You Hear What I Hear?”
I can look at this year’s Christmas tree and touch the very first Christmas ornaments my Mom and Dad gave me for the tree in my first apartment.
And, then there’s the visions of sugar plums - the baking starts early, always grounded in delicious memories – Mom’s Angel Food Cake, Aunt Greta’s Stollen, Zany’s Cinnamon Buns or Nana’s Sand Cookies.
And, one can never forget the visits from holiday spirits.
I was not familiar with Truman Capote’s short memoir, “A Christmas Memory,” but saw it performed as a musical in early December at the Irish Repertory Theater in New York City. It is a story from Truman’s childhood in the South, when he was known as “Buddy.” He grew up living with an elderly distant cousin named Sook, whom he describes as his best friend and “still a child.”
Every year, Cousin Sook would look out the window on a cold, clear day in November and say, “It’s fruitcake weather.” Thus began the annual ritual of baking dozens of fruitcakes to give as gifts to friends, family and even celebrities. The story is filled with the wonder of a youngster embracing the rituals and magic of the Christmas holidays. I’m intrigued by the notion of a fruitcake tradition, and I decide to give it a try.
It’s not quite fruitcake weather, but the blustery rain is good weather for ducks. Early Saturday, I shop for ingredients. While Buddy and Sook nearly exhaust their funds buying ingredients, they would have been shocked at today’s prices for dried fruit.
They frugally gather pecans off the ground, a wise strategy as in our era, pecan halves are running $16.99 a pound.
In the story, Sook and Buddy approach the local bootlegger for their whisky, an essential ingredient in the fruitcake. With no local bootlegger in sight, I consider using one of our fine Long Island local whiskeys, but Truman was a Southerner, so Jack Daniels seems like the obvious choice. Fortunately, Jack has a recipe for Classic Christmas Fruitcake, too.
Besides, Jack and I have had a long association.
The aromas of fruit, orange and whisky fill the house, and I am reminded of the people and pleasures that have graced my many Christmases.
When their cakes are complete – thirty-one in total – Buddy and Sook have a mad moment and drink the remaining whisky (Buddy is seven years old). My three cakes are just fine for my purposes and it’s a little early in the day for me for a nip, so I’m perfectly happy with the spirited aroma.
Now wrapped in whisky soaked cheesecloth, these little beauties are tucked away in the refrigerator ready to make some new holiday memories come December 25th.
Happy Christmas to all, and happy memories past and present.