As predictable as Santa riding the skies in a sleigh full of gifts and Baby Jesus’ appearance in the Crêche on Christmas Eve, six weeks before the big day, my father would retreat to the kitchen and commandeer the mixing bowls and measuring spoons and lock himself away to prepare for the onslaught of holiday entertaining he and my mother loved to share in.
With a snap of his wrist he would fling a tea towel over one shoulder, tie an apron around his waist and haul out the big stainless steel bowl, the cutting knives and board, the flour, candied fruit and nuts, and the Rum. It was essential to the mix he told me. It’s why you started making fruitcakes six weeks before Christmas. They needed time to soak up the Rum’s juices and become all besotted with their festive bliss.
Okay. So my father never said ‘besotted with festive bliss’, but it’s what I remember most about his Christmas fruitcake. I was besotted by the festive bliss its preparation heralded in.
My daughters will tell you making fruitcake is a crime of the season. I call it a tradition worthy of annual celebration.
And this year was no different. Once I decided I needed a good douse of connection to the comfort of Christmases past, that is.
It started with the realization that I was trying to avoid Christmas. My daughter and her fiance had told me they would not be coming home on Boxing Day as planned. They were coming in January and with the wedding next September, her graduation in May, 30th birthday in June and a spree of returns to Calgary for friends’ weddings throughout the summer, that was all they could fit in.
What? Christmas couldn’t happen without Alexis.
The knowing of her absence sent me into a slump. My heart murmured nostalgically for Christmases past when The Night Before Christmas was spent watching “Love Actually” and the three of us would sit beside the sparkling lights of the tree sharing laughter and stories of life and eating all kinds of delicious treats, but not the fruitcake I’d insist they try and they’d insist was really the grossest crime of the season. Then, just before midnight they’d open their one gift (PJs of course) and I would tuck them both into the same bed to drift off to sleep and dream of sugar plum fairies and nutcrackers marching in the night.
With the announcement our Christmas, early or not, would not include my eldest daughter, the clouds of Scrooge descended and I banned all celebration from my heart. Not to mention, work was so busy I had worked every Friday leading into December. I work four days a week. Friday is my day off but given the workload, I kept giving into the call to be there, because, I told myself, I had no other choice. I had to get the work done. Work needed me.
Don’t you hate it when you cross the very same boundaries you refuse to set?
And then, Black Friday arrived and the humbug clouds dispersed when C.C. and I decided to fly Alexis home for an early Christmas celebration.
I had to get into gear fast.
It may not have been the beginning of November, but the nuts and candied fruit were calling. I had to get the fruitcakes soaking.
My father was probably stirring in his grave, if he was buried in the soils of the earth that is. Thankfully, his ashes have become part of the sea of life so only his spirit of Christmases past might have given a tiny (perhaps not so tiny) grumble of dismay as I substituted wheat flour for gluten free and contemplated leaving out the nuts too.
Just too many gluten sensitivities and celiac relations to warrant flour in my cakes, know what I mean? I truly did mean to leave out the almonds (those nut allergies are pervasive) but realized in the end, substituting wheat flour with almond flour constitutes using nuts. I threw in the almonds and other achenes and caryopsides too! (Yup. I looked up synonyms for nuts and loved what I found even if they don’t quite fit the fruitcake.)
When I told Alexis about the mix-up with the flours and informed her she would not be getting a cake in her stocking she laughed in relief and my heart breathed easily. It isn’t the tradition of making the cake I love so much. It is their teasing I treasure.
To my daughters fruitcake may be a crime of the season but to me, it is a song of the heart. Of memory stirring in the comfort of my father’s kitchen where I would sit and watch him stir and mix and buzz around the kitchen concocting Christmas treats for all to enjoy. Of memories of the joy of hearing my daughters tease me over the years for succumbing to the call of throwing candied fruit and flour into a bowl and dousing it with rum then calling it cake.
Honestly girls. There is no crime in that. Only love.