I am one of those people who like fruitcake. I am offended with the many jokes that malign this special holiday treat, that it should only be a gift to be given and never eaten. I consider myself a connoisseur of this delectable delight, but all of those I have tasted, I have not found one that can compare to the one my Aunt Ada would bake.
My dad had his own holiday tradition. He would buy a box of mixed candies and add that to the box of Shupe Williams chocolate that his boss would give him. Then our Aunt Ada would bring dad one of her fruitcakes. Technically, it was fruit bread, but I hate to be picky.
Then in the evening after dinner, dad would bring out the box of candy or chocolates and pass it around. He would hold the box in front of each of us kids and say something like, "You can have two."
I would wait excitedly until he came to me, and then agonize about making a choice. He would stand their patiently until I made my choice, and then as I reached in to grab my selection, he would invariably cry "Oh jeeze, I knew I should have grabbed that first. I've been thinking about that one all day." So, not wanting my dad to feel bad, I would begin to put it back. He would then laugh, and say something like, "Oh, go ahead and take it." I would reluctantly take it, and he would have his laugh. I know it was just a game, but he always managed to sucker me in.
On another night, he would go into the kitchen and cut the fruitcake. He would carefully cut each slice so that they were each equal. I don't know for sure, but I suspect that he used a tape measure.
Oh, I loved that cake. It was thick, moist, and I believed I could eat a whole loaf by myself. I had often wondered why Aunt Ada would only give one loaf to our large family. I had a bachelor uncle, and he got a loaf all for himself. I never voiced my concern and was grateful for the two or three slices I did get, and dreamed that one day, I would have one all to myself.
Aunt Ada lived with her two brothers on a small farm just south of Ogden, Utah. They had built the small frame house in which they lived during the Depression in 1936. They raised chickens and rabbits, had a vegetable garden and a variety of fruit and nut trees. I suppose for lack of a better name, we referred to it as the Farm.
Earl was the oldest; he had a job as receiving clerk at the Boyle Furniture store. He kept that job until he was forced to retire, and even then he continued to come to work. He was not getting paid, but he did not care. He had worked all his life, and the idea of sitting around the house was too much for him.
Ed was the youngest. He had retired and spent his days working around the farm, caring for his fruit trees and vegetable garden. He had built three large rabbit hutches. The double-decker pens were arranged in a "U," and had a bench running along the bottom. In the summer Ed would sit under the shade of the pens, sip from a bottle of "snake bite medicine" that he kept in a bin with the rabbit pellets and discuss things with the rabbits.
Aunt Ada would do all the cooking, cleaning and sewing. They lived a very quiet life. They had a radio they would sometimes listen to, and in the evenings they just sat around the front room. Earl would read a Zane Grey novel or work his stamp collection. Ed would thumb through a stack of garden magazines or seed catalogs, and Ada would busy herself darning socks or mending cloths.
I loved them, even Uncle Ed who would get ornery after he had drunk too much medicine. I hated going to visit them. One summer while my mother was working, my sister Frances and I had to go out there every day. There was nothing for a young boy to do. Frances would help Ada with the laundry or housework, and I got to help Ed with the garden. That was mostly pulling weeds or other detestable chore.
The one bright part of the day was lunch. Aunt Ada would get a bottle of her homemade apricot nectar to which she would add a bottle of 7-up and serve it with toasted cheese sandwiches. This was always a great meal, and one that I miss. I never got the recipe for her apricot nectar; she never got around to writing it down, and took it with her when she passed away.
Aunt Ada also made her own mincemeat. I loved pies made with that recipe. I was excited when my sister passed a copy along to me. For about five seconds, I was stunned to read that it called for "bowls" of sugar and "bales" of apples. I could never find what size bowl to use, or what a bale was.
We did get paid for our labors. Uncle Ed would give me a dollar, and then hand Frances a "rubber buck." He would tease her with it, and then finally exchange it for the real thing. The best part of the whole day would be getting on the bus to go home.
Aunt Ada would start her fruit bread in June or July. After they were baked, she would take them to the basement and arrange them along the bottom of a large oval shaped galvanized wash tub. Then she would pour a little Brandy over each one and cover the loaves with a piece of cheesecloth. She would do this once a week until Christmas. I got a copy of her recipe but could not quite duplicate the results. Maybe it was because I would wait until December to start baking, or maybe it was something else. I strongly suspect that her secret was in the sauce.
As the years passed, I finished high school and joined the Navy. A year after joining, I was stationed aboard a destroyer in Newport, R.I. As the holidays began to roll around, I found myself thinking about the Christmas at home and wishing I could be there.
Then one day just before Christmas, I received a large package from home. I can still feel the excitement as I tore the box open and examined the contents. There were several gifts from my family, and on the bottom was a special surprise.
As I picked up the gift, wrapped in brightly colored Christmas paper, I knew immediately what it was. I never even bothered to unwrap it. This was special, and I had no intention of sharing it.
That night while I stood watch in the Radio Room, I unwrapped that present. For a few hours I was back home with my family. I was listening to Christmas music on the radio and eating fruitcake. It was my greatest wish come true, I finally had a fruitcake all my own.
Note: If you would like a copy of Aunt Ada's fruit bread recipe, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org