Friday, December 6, 2013

SCENTS OF CHRISTMAS



When I was growing up, our Winter dining room always smelled of apples and rustly paper and the velvety linings of all the buffet drawers where the set of Michelangelo, with its six extra serving pieces AND the Hostess Set, resided amongst all the half-burned candles and the fountain pens and used-up husks of checkbooks.  There was such a cold smell in there, as if you were stepping into a restaurant cooler, minus the scents of black rubber gaskets and that salty aroma of Aunt Lou’s big red Co-Cola case.

 

The entire room was red---carpet and Miss Scarlett drapes-with-cords

and even the drawer-linings and the velvety fabric in the cuts of the wood-filigree sconces.   And red was how it Smelled.   Not roses or crayons or even beets---though there was an obligatory little clear dish of the pickles on the Thanksgiving and Christmas tables---but just apples.  


Tradition still held that every stocking must have an apple in it, and perhaps an orange, with an enticing handful of mixed nuts in the shells, way down in the toe.
 
 
 
 

Nobody tore into the stocking or dumped it out on the couch---not anybody I knew.   We savored that stocking, whether family rule was open it first, or presents first.  An experimental fondle of the stocking-toe would be a mysterious thing---was that a walnut, or did it have just enough give to be a new red ball, with jacks scattered into the mix?   Brazil Nuts were easy, but could that possibly be a new bracelet-charm, perhaps a mustard-seed in its little clear faddish globe, instead of a hazelnut?  And pecans---those conjured many covetable items of their size and shape, all looked at longingly and admired in Ben Franklin for weeks before Christmas.   Little lipsticks and tiny colognes and samples from the Avon lady, saved up for stockings, or maybe even a pack or two of Red-Hots in their crinkly little sawtooth cellophane.

After the fudge-making, the table was covered with long slick sheets of Cut-Rite, with the far ends still trying to curl around the last rows of candy.   The little nut-filled patties were then stored in the golden treasure-tins which had once---once per year, in fact---held those most delightful of confections---Hostess Fruitcake.  

Not Fruit Cake---Fruitcake.  It had to be all one word, with Fruit as the emphasis, for those glistening round red cherries, glaceed within an inch of their sweet, sweet lives, and the hunks of sugary pineapple and the crisp pecan halves---those were the main ingredients.   There was just enough of a light, moist-but-the outsides-a-little-bit-crumbly cake to hold all those pounds of magic into every judiciously-doled slice.
 




This is the loaf of today, but I imagine it must have come in this long-ago tin,
 
 
which for all my childhood contained Mammaw’s spools of thread.  It, on the other hand, smelled of tangy old metal and dust and Coats & Clark's fading away in the dark.
 

Even the can-and-lid were beautiful, like some three-pound bauble on Marie Antoinette’s table.  The gold was patterned in lace all over, with a slightly-raised cameo effect of a serenely beautiful lady holding a cake on a plate.  And you know, not until I looked up the pictures just now, did I ever really notice the blue.  They were gold and perfect and such reliquaries of all that was covetable, even at Christmas, shining as if lit from within with some magical light.
 

 
 
 

 

Sometimes I’d just go furtively work my fingers along that tight round lid, raising just one side an inch, so as to inhale that annual-only fragrance of such magnificence.   There was the scent of fruit, and browned crumb, and an elusive tang of something so rich and strange I could not name it.  And you know, that was such a holy-of-holies that it never once occurred to me to sneak a slice, or to pry one of those immense translucent cherries from their cushion of cake. They just clung there, encased like I imagined diamonds in a mine, and it was a sacred thing never to be touched, right up there with the shelf-only doll in the elaborate white dress crocheted by my Other Mammaw.   Why, we practically HAD the gold and frankincense and myrrh, right there in the dining room.

 
 
And inside the tin, the care and respect were carried on in a crisp, rustly mantle of cellophane, which was topped with a silvery doily, in turn centered with a small red satin bow.   What ELEGANCE, what charm, and even without the cake, all that beautiful would have been enough.   And with every slice, the cellophane was carefully re-arranged, the doily replaced, the bow centered, just for the import of the thing.

 

I don’t remember that the dining room ever did smell of the cake, despite my frequent open-and-close of that exotic humidor, but of apples and chocolate and vague spices, wrapped in the equally-rare chill of Winter.

And what is YOUR Scent of Christmas?



Joining my Apples and Fruitcake to Miz Beverly's Pink Saturday at How Sweet The Sound.
 

15 comments:

Kathy said...

I remember when I was a child my grandparents were given a fruitcake each Christmas in a tin not unlike yours. I never liked fruitcake, but they did. What memories you brought back to me!

You write so well. I felt as if I were in that cold room with you smelling the apples.

AshTreeCottage said...

Such wonderful memories. You made me feel as though I was standing right next to you sharing in the moment. When I think of Christmas I think of peppermint but I do love the smell of apples too. I am your newest follower. Stop by for a visit sometime.

Big Texas Hugs,
Susan and Bentley

Chesapeake said...

Still thinking about making fruitcake this season. Should I? I'd have to borrow a friend's oven, not trusting my little microwave/convection to cook it properly. Haven't done it in years, but sort of have a hankering for it. Whatcha think, Racheld, my cooking friend?

racheld said...

Kathy,

Thank you so very much for the kind words. I SO love igniting memories, for so many of you send me into remembrances.

Susan and Bentley,

You just come stand (or sit, or stay the night) right here any time you'd like. I've been dropping in on you for a long time, for I love to follow Y'all on your adventures.

Chesapeake,
I'd say Yes! Yes! if it would contain those sumptuous dried figs that you make. And then again, I'm a purist when it comes to such sublime creations as those figs. Perhaps a slice of the cake, and a couple of figs would help me decide. You have my address.

racheld said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jeanne, backyard neighbor said...

Good morning my dear Blog friend, which definitely goes beyond our Blogs. As always, your comment on the pine basket was so sweet.

I have been so busy working on my garden club 'Christmas Luncheon' for days. This is a day of great food, lots of praise to my club members for making the past 2 1/2 years as president memorable for me. I am installing new officers and pretty much the 'one woman' planning committee for the entire 'potluck' luncheon. We will meet in our church fellowship hall with over 40 in attendance. A big deal and I love planning this so much. It will be a post next week. Smile.

Whew, now for my comment on how much your post brought back sweet memories. Any time we found an orange in our stocking it was such a special Christmas.

In MI. apples were always a part of our life. Our dairy farm also had an apple orchard that we helped my father plant. It is still there 66 years later. I was 8 when it was planted. Now it is partially missing because of homes built in among the apple trees. Apples were always in a big brass bowl placed in the living room on the floor.

Fruitcake in their lovely tins were often rum soaked for the adults and plain for the children. I liked the plain (not really plain) fruitcake the best. The glaceed cherries were my fave 'always' with lots of walnuts not pecons. We 'ARE' transported Yankees you know. LOL Your post is a very special read today. Thank you for sharing a part of your life's stories as you so often do.
This comment is almost a story so I send you loving wishes for a special Christmas season with all the blessings you deserve.
Love,
Jeanne

Melinda Jane Harrison said...

Love this post. This is what we do now. Thought I throw in some chocolate for the boys. But apples, oranges, and nuts are essential. Maybe a pair of socks because that monster in the dryer loves to eat them!

Melinda Jane Harrison said...

Any recipes for apple butter. Wanting to make some. Never have.

donna baker said...

Apples sound good. Studded oranges, but I would be most happy to smell summer right now.

Nail said...

Things that I remember that I try to recreate for my family...the smell of apples and oranges together. Daddy bringing in a PINE tree from the field for us to decorate (boy did that smell good) Giblet gravy, Mama's dressing with boiled eggs in it (I don't do that, do you?), pecan pie, Mama's fudge with exactly one pecan half on the top of each round piece. Then, right after New Year's, Daddy would come home from hunting and bring a bounty of ducks and Mama would make Gumbo! That I really miss. Tried to buy a duck to make it and they were like $20. We didn't realize how "High off the Hog" we were eating back then did we?

jeanne, backyard neighbor said...

Hi Rachel, I am sorry about The mix up on the garden club luncheon. I realized you were thinking it was the wrong day but I have been so swamped getting ready I didn't get a chance to tell you. The day was fabulous and I was very glad to plan the event for my last hurrah. I woke up at 3:00am to put a turkey in the oven and never went back to sleep. It was pouring rain and in mid roasting the power went off then came back on and went out again. My stress level went through the roof. Lucky it didn't stay off and the turkey finished roasting perfectly. I made two pies and three loaves of pumpkin bread. I had to write an installation ceremony for the new officers, package and get a multitude of gifts ready to honor many of our club members. Write a program, purchase and plan all of the tables with centerpieces etc. My list was long and it took several days to get it all together. Since we were gone so much, it all had to be done last week. The club gave me a gorgeous Christmas centerpiece in honor of my years as president and everything was a happy event with over forty of my dear friends and club members. I came home and slept for two hours. Then I fell asleep twice trying yo write this comment. LOL. I will probably sleep through coffee time tomorrow morning. Smile.

I loved your long comment so much. I know you had a wonderful time and with Sweetpea everything is just so much fun. Your joy flowed in your always descriptive words. I have pictured you in your outfit and I know you looked very elegant in your beautiful cut velvet blazer. I had one in rust and outgrew it but I always felt special in that lovely fabric. I wish I had kept it now.

So you had such a good time enjoying yourselves you slept past coffee. Good, you need your rest.

So my dear blogging friend, I am off to bed for some much needed rest. I am so happy to relax and not worry about the luncheon.

Thank you for your dear friendship and the fun we have in a mutual admiration society. I so want us to meet some time.
Love you bunches,
Jeanne

Beverly said...

Happy Pink Saturday, my dearest Rachel.

Your words bring delight to my soul, just as the gems of fruit do to fruitcake lovers. Of which, my husband is one. My parents loved it, too. My sweet tooth leans more toward the minimalist, and fruitcake is just too sweet for me. I do enjoy one loaded with pecans, raisins, dates and pineapple with a light hand on the sugar canister.

My grandmother kept her "for eating" fruitcake wrapped in a towel on a shelf in her pantry. The ones designated for gifts were in the pretty tins.

Thank you so much for your visit to my holiday home tour yesterday. Day two is now up and running, and it features the foyer, stairway and landing.

I am trying to take photos for day three, but the task isn't easy on this gray and rainy day. I will persevere and win.

Beverly said...

Oh, I forgot to tell you that I did get an apple, an orange and some pecans in my stocking. And, always always a dime store ruby ring. It made my heart go pitter pat.

Debby@Just Breathe said...

This is absolutely beautiful and nostalgic! Thank you for sharing your scents of Christmas.

Kim S. said...

Rachel, I love your stocking memories. We always had a few nuts in the toe and still do! I finally got old enough to like fruitcake this year! Or else it was the first one I ever tasted without a bourbon soaking. A niece sent us a Harry & David fruitcake for the holidays and it was delicious. And that round tin with the elegant lady? I have that very tin!