Friday, December 19, 2008

TASTES OF THE SEASON

Chris just bought his annual Claxton's fruitcake---got this one at Sam's and it's three of the little square logs---quite a haul, as one stick is his usual supply, all the thick, candied-fruity-sweet richness that even HE can stand in one season. He hasn't yet brought home his one quart of eggnog. He doles it out in nightly doses, a shotglass for dessert, sipped slowly like good Scotch. And since I can tolerate neither the clammy cake nor the nutmeggy nog, he enjoys them both all to himself.

My favorite seasonal taste-memory is a Hostess fruitcake, in the pretty round lace-embellished gold tin, a weighty prize to be opened and savored. The three-pounder was our usual holiday buy, and the lifting of the lid revealed a fancy doily, with a pressed-flat bow of red ribbon atop a crinkle-cellophaned round cake. It had no soggy rum, no great clumps of neon fruit. The light, soft crumb of the cake was scented with vanilla, and lovely chunks of real pineapple and whole, almost-transparent glace' cherries were suspended in that spongy, wonderful cake. Whole pecans, crisp and toasted, provided a salty crunch in contrast to the tender cake and moist fruit.

The cake was doled out in small slices, as well, by my Mother's steady hand on the cakeknife, and despite frequent lid-liftings for a scented savor, never once did I contemplate swiping a slice.

That was a SERIOUS cake, for special, for occasions, and we treated it with the respect it was due. I'd love to find one again. We occasionally pass the Wonder Bread bakery, inhaling those homey odors of baking bread, with a little punctuation of cinnamon in the air---I Wonder if they still make those delicious cakes.

And a fond memory is of Papa, my children's Great-Grandfather, whose own Mother had always made great crocks of egg custard, thick and golden, but still pourable from a big crockery pitcher, to be sipped with whatever other rich dessert they were having. Papa still had the pitcher, and Grandmother would duplicate the recipe every year, keeping him a steady supply of the custard in the refrigerator.

He’d sit back in his recliner after supper, turn on the News, and say, as he always phrased a request to her, “Linny, if you’ll pour me a glass of that custard, I’ll drink it.”

Years ago, one of our distant relatives sent us one of those small cheese assortments every Christmas. It was usually perhaps six small wedges of different cheeses, a little round Edam or Gouda, and a maybe four-inch stick of sausage on each end, the whole nestled in a box of shredded yellow paper, with punctuations of those red-and-green-cellophaned strawberry candies. We'd make a big production of dinner one night during the season, with lovely cracker assortments, crisp wedges of apple and pear, and bunches of juicy red and green grapes, crusty baguettes, a little dish of sweet butter, and a big ole crock of wonderful Mississippi State Cheddar, ordered in September for Christmas delivery.


We'd set the table beautifully, with the cheeses all arranged on pretty trays with doilies or leaves from the magnolia tree. We'd pour apple juice into wineglasses, toast the holiday, and I'd cut each small cheese wedge into tiny slivers, making sure each person got a taste of each kind. Coins of sausage were sliced, the bread broken and buttered, crackers distributed, and servings of fruit and good dips into the cheddar crock were enjoyed.

It was partly like eating little Barbie-food, somewhat like a wine-and-cheese tasting, and perhaps a silly thing, a frivolous dining experience, with sometimes hats and dressup costumes and fans and boas, with the boys seating us ladies in their best gentlemanly fashion. That relative is long-gone from us, but not from the memories. The children still mention those cheesenibble dinners as a memorable, pleasant part of their growing-up.

3 comments:

Keetha said...

Miss. State cheese, summer sausage, saltines...that's hard to beat!

I want to like fruitcake, but I really don't care for it. If it were just the pecans and the batter, then I think I would. Of course then it wouldn't be fruitcake.

racheld said...

All fruitcake save for the airy, delicious Hostess edition have what my Mammaw called a hwhang to them---some kinda scent and flavor and throat-linger of a sourish bitterness. And the ones with booze---I made several for clients over the years, including one you wrapped in a cheesecloth soaked in JACK---can a nice lady say EWWWWW?

I'm just not a liquor person, but even the ones made by the proud hands of Good Church Ladies were that brown-tasting, too-rich-for-me kind that's like liver---not in taste, but in that just a little is too much.

Nora Bee said...

Those cheese parties sound divine.