An Open Letter to _______ Concerning Fruitcakes

People don't like fruitcake. That's why there are jokes about them being used as doorstops or the stories one hears about the same fruitcake being rewrapped and regifted year after year as a family tradition. But the fact, _______ (Pamela's name removed to protect the perpetrator), that you still believe fruitcakes are to be given and shared with loved ones speaks volumes about you. It's an indication that you're not a slave to pop culture attitudes and conventional wisdom. You're a woman from another time. I envision you in the Renaissance when fruitcakes were prepared with care. I see you in an Elizabethan gown of red and gold picking flowers to later hang and dry or carfully pressing them between the sheets of a book. This all fits with your romantic nature.

When I was a young girl, far-off relatives would send the family a fruitcake every year before Christmas, and every year it would sit in the middle of the dining room table untouched. In moments of desparation, I'd try to carefully extract the tiny bits of cake from the surrounding fruit and nuts only to end up frustrated, cursing it.

But maybe a fruitcake is more than just a fruitcake. The making of a fruitcake is an expensive proposition and has always been so. To give a fruitcake is to have sacrificed. In Truman Capote's short story "A Christmas Memory," he recounts the annual preparation and kitchen production of the renowned fruitcakes he and his eccentric older cousin would make and send to all parts of the country. The two would make a list of people they found worthy and admirable. Some would go to distinguished locals, but part of their tradition was to send one of their prized cakes to the President of the United States. They would then treasure the thank you note they received back written on stationery bearing the Presidential seal. An important element of his story was the cost of the ingredients and the fact that he and his cousin could have easily used the money for more practical things during the Depression.

So this Christmas I'm grateful for friends and friends bearing fruitcakes. And sometimes a fruitcake really is more than just a fruitcake.

[A side note: My mother-in-law told us about a childhood memory of hers. When her family was finished with their Christmas tree, they'd put suet on the branches and then sprinkle the suet with birdseed and put the tree outside as a gift for the birds. As our winter gift to the birds, we put the remainder of Pamela's fruitcake on the back patio table. The squirrel loved it so much, he brought a friend. So we've learned that squirrels love fruitcake. Who knew?]


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