Fruitcake and Capote

Pie and Other Earthly Delights

“It’s always the same: a morning arrives in November, and my friend, as though officially inaugurating the Christmas time of the year that exhilarates her imagination and fuels the blue in her heart, announces: ‘It’s fruitcake weather! Fetch our buggy. Help me find my hat.’” - “A Christmas Memory” by Truman Capote

“A Christmas Memory” is one of my favorite short stories. This beautiful little tale reminisces of long ago Christmases when the narrator Buddy and his friend, an older cousin, make fruitcakes. With almost thirteen dollars they saved over the year, they buy ingredients and bootleg whiskey in order to bake thirty one cakes they either send or deliver to, “Friends. Not necessarily neighbor friends: indeed, the large share are intended for persons we’ve met maybe once, perhaps not at all. People who’ve struck our fancy."

His “friend” is a childlike woman who's “small and sprightly, like a bantam hen.” After the cakes are dispatched, the rest of the story tells of their search for the perfect Christmas tree and the gifts they exchange. Since they cannot afford to buy bicycles or radios or chocolate-covered cherries, they make and exchange homemade kites.

On Christmas morning the two go out to fly their new kites. Buddy’s friend revels in the perfect moment. She says she often thought that in order to see God one would have to be on death’s door, but she sees Him in this wonderful kite flying Christmas morning. She says, “I’ll wager at the very end a body realizes the Lord has already show Himself. That things as they are” - her hand circles in a gesture that gather clouds and kites and grass and Queen pawing earth over her bond - “just what they’ve always seen, was seeing Him. As for me, I could leave the world with today in my eyes.” 

I needed this little story. The world is off its rocker. Madmen seem to be steering the bus. I am heartbroken over all the hate and scorn that is spreading quicker than a fatal case of the plague. What could I do to bring back joy? I then remembered, “It’s fruitcake weather!” I had never attempted these concoctions before so I perused different recipes. King Arthur Flour had one that looked simple, so I set off on my pilgrimage.

A trip to the bootlegger was off the list since we had a bottle of brandy in the cupboard. Walnuts instead of pecans, no candied fruit, and bags of dried cherries, pineapple, and apricots. I soon discovered thirteen dollars does not buy enough ingredients to bake even one fruitcake these days. Have you priced dried fruit and nuts lately?

The fruit soaked in the brandy for a day. How could this go wrong? Assembling them was not difficult; all of the ingredients went into the stand mixer and the nuts and fruit were later folded into the batter. I bought little paper tins at Target. My idea was to gift a few of them if they turned out.

As they baked, I reread “A Christmas Memory" and another short novel of Capote’s The Grass Harp. Both are similar in nature and loosely based on Capote’s youth when he was cared for by his mother’s family in Monroeville, Alabama. Both are sweet and precious in their simple stories and exquisite language. My heart was healing though literature and baked goods.

I realize all the ills of this crazy world cannot be solved through flour, brown sugar, and a fabled author’s imagery, but it’s a start.

Now I’m off to walk and if I’m lucky, I’ll hear the voices in the grass harp, “ knows the stories of all the people on the hill, of all the people who ever lived, and when we are dead it will tell ours, too.” If I listen closely, the voices will whisper hope for goodness still left in this world.

Oh, and the fruitcake was lovely. I’m saving a piece for lunch.

Fruitcake recipe: