There is only one fruitcake. It moves from family to family, forever unwanted, forever indestructible.
It is Sunday evening, and I have just returned from sister Kate’s country place about 80 miles south of Santa Fe. It was a weekend delayed by a snow storm and devoted to making fruit cake from a recipe inherited from our mother. We started doing this annually when I moved to Santa Fe eight years ago, and we distribute about 20 pounds of loaves as Christmas gifts to family members and long-time friends who love fruit cake.
I sense eyebrows rising, and there is indeed ambivalence about this tradition. In fact, widespread disdain for the confection is even celebrated in an annual event the first week in January in Manitou Springs, Colorado. It is called the “Fruit Cake Toss” and involves the use of all sorts of contraptions as well as the human arm. The record toss seems to be 420 feet. The farther the better, of course.
Our recipe is for Black Fruit Cake, and we do have avid followers. One is Kate’s neighbor Jeff, who came over and visited while we were making the batter last year. I mentioned him in my post and described him as “good-looking” and one of those guys who can do anything with his hands.
I included in that post an artistic photograph of our beloved fruit cake. Several of my lady friends got in touch saying that they had really enjoyed reading about our project and thought the photo was lovely but added something along the lines of “I would rather see what Jeff looks like.”
“Forget the fruit cake,” Kate mimicked. “We want to see some beefcake.”
Jeff came over for coffee and a visit while we worked this weekend, and he graciously submitted to being photographed for this year’s post.
Making the cakes is a huge amount of work, but Kate and I talk enjoyably the entire time, often about family memories. I chop nuts, dates, and candied pineapple and red and green cherries for hours as Kate does the more cerebral work of assembling the batter. She mostly listens as Jeff and I get into it. He is very conservative and a great student of the Bible, with definite ideas about its meaning.
The Heaths were not inculcated into any particular religion growing up, so we mostly listen when people share their beliefs. As long as they are not hurtful to others and help people live better lives, I am pretty much fine with whatever. I have pursued unusual spiritual interests myself, and I understand all forms as an expression of the human need for order and meaning in life.
After Jeff left late in the day, Kate and I broke to take a friend out to dinner, then returned home and continued working until almost 11:00 on the dough that has to sit overnight. The talking continued to ramble everywhere, and Jeff had left us with a number of philosophical questions. Kate has a rather scientific bent, which I do not, and as the evening came to a close, she brought up questions about how to know the truth and how time works.
She was washing dishes as we came to a close, and I was working around her with a broom to sweep up all the mud that had come in on the feet of people and creatures during the day. My plan was to make little piles of dirt and then use a dust pan to sweep them up all at once.
“Did you know that scientists have decided that there has been more than one Big Bang?” Kate asked. I hadn’t heard that, and then there was a question of how many bangs there have been and could be.
“Maybe it’s like inhaling and exhaling,” I commented as I continued to move around, imagining a universe breathing in and out through infinity.
“So how do you describe infinity. Is it circular?”
“Well, there’s the figure eight,” I responded, “but that’s actually circular.”
Then Kate paused as I walked around looking at the floor and asked, “What’s the matter?”
“I’ve lost my dirt,” I answered. We both collapsed into laughter.
Well, maybe you had to be there, but sisters making fruit cake can be a lot of fun.