I really ought to organize my life, or at least my recipe box, but neither of those would be the same if I actually made the change. There’s frustration, of course, in not being able to find just the right thing when I need it, whether it’s my car keys or the ingredients of my family’s rather non-traditional fruitcake. Still, having everything neatly to hand would no doubt take some of the excitement out of the whole thing.
These philosophical thoughts came to me the other day when I pulled out my ratty old yellow recipe box to search for blueprints for the cookies and candies I make for friends. I don’t really need the box, because I always end up baking the same old things. The recipes for those are imprinted on my brain and have been for a whole lot of years. But the box is tradition and history and pretty much an integral part of the Christmas season for me.
My grandmas are in that box, and my mom. Scraps of paper that don’t fit tidily in the little plastic sleeves hold samples of their handwriting, and occasionally smears of chocolate or drips of vanilla decorate the index cards. I can see those wonderful women—every one a marvelous cook—standing by old O’Keefe and Merritt stoves, stirring up custards and candies. I can almost smell the cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves of pies, cakes, cookies.
The box holds some of what the fancy-dancy antiques people call ephemera, paper bits that appear to be of value simply because of age. In my yellow file, this means World War II-era advertising and recipes that offered suggestions for cooking without. Because so much of the available food was designated for the armed forces, the cooks at home learned to make cakes without sugar, coffee without, uh, coffee, and eggless everything. Ration cards were precious.
My mom was a young bride then, with a husband in the army and two baby girls to feed. She, along with the rest of the country, was allotted a certain number of ration coupons. She clung to the ones for essentials (milk, sugar, bread, meat) and traded off things like cigarettes and coffee in exchange for more of the things she needed. Who would want cigarettes if it meant you couldn’t bake pie?
This will be our second Christmas without Mom, but she’s with us in the sounds and smells of the season, and especially in the goodies. I can’t share my memories of Mom, but I can share her recipes. This one, for an almost-candy that she always called Fruitcake, will make your fingers sticky and your taste buds happy. You’ll have to make your own memories.
1 C. sugar
1 ½ lb. pitted dates, chopped
1 C. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
¼ lb. candied cherries
¼ lb. candied pineapple
¼ lb. candied lemon peel
1 cup raisins
2 cup chopped nuts
Beat eggs with sugar and pour this over the chopped dates. Chop up all the candied fruits and dredge these with the flour/baking powder mix. Add the floured fruits and the nuts to the egg/date mixture. Pour into wax-papered and greased loaf pans and bake 300 degrees for an hour. If you use smaller pans, adjust the time accordingly.
I’ll see you again, after the commercial.