November 29, 2007

Fruitcake weather

I know my parents for certain and probably some readers consider the more severe winter temperatures up here (-18C this afternoon, around 0 F, and with a bitter wind) "fruitcake weather". As in, suitable only for fruitcakes like us, content in the ice and snow and it's not even December yet, for Pete's sake.

But when I think of of "fruitcake weather", I think of one of our favorite wintertime, holiday books, Truman Capote's A Christmas Memory, published in 1956 with Breakfast at Tiffany's. If you can, find the children's edition, with beautiful Rackhamesque illustrations by Beth Peck and an accompanying audio CD read by Celeste Holm, who is welcome here any afternoon for a cup of tea or coffee and a plate of fruitcake. If you prefer, you can listen to Capote himself read the story. But we prefer Ado Annie. (Much as I also prefer Capote's writings the closer he sticks to home, but that's another thought for another day.)

This is how it starts,
Imagine a morning in late November. A coming of winter morning more than twenty years ago. Consider the kitchen of a spreading old house in a country town. A great black stove is its main feature; but there is also a big round table and a fireplace with two rocking chairs placed in front of it. Just today the fireplace commenced its seasonal roar.

A woman with shorn white hair is standing at the kitchen window. She is wearing tennis shoes and a shapeless gray sweater over a summery calico dress. She is small and sprightly, like a bantam hen; but, due to a long youthful illness, her shoulders are pitifully hunched. Her face is remarkable -- not unlike Lincoln's, craggy like that, and tinted by sun and wind; but it is delicate, too, finely boned, and her eyes are sherry-colored and timid. "Oh my," she exclaims, her breath smoking the windowpane, "it's fruitcake weather!"

The person to whom she is speaking is myself. I am seven; she is sixty-something. We are cousins, very distant ones, and we have lived together -- well, as long as I can remember. Other people inhabit the house, relatives; and though they have power over us, and frequently make us cry, we are not, on the whole, too much aware of them. We are each other's best friend. She calls me Buddy, in memory of a boy who was formerly her best friend. The other Buddy died in the 1880's, when she was still a child. She is still a child.

"I knew it before I got out of bed," she says, turning away from the window with a purposeful excitement in her eyes. "The courthouse bell sounded so cold and clear. And there were no birds singing; they've gone to warmer country, yes indeed. Oh, Buddy, stop stuffing biscuit and fetch our buggy. Help me find my hat. We've thirty cakes to bake."
And if you're a fruitcake fan, and perhaps especially if you're not yet convinced by the merits of fruitcake, you might want to have a look at this recipe from Gina's Gingerbread; I think I'd use dark rum rather than Grand Marnier, and the darker the chocolate the better.

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