Fruit Cake is something that evokes happy memories of Christmas for me. I remember the excitement my dad and I shared when the heavy round tin of Fruit Cake arrived. My father hoarded it, and the two of us rationed it until February. We would eat it before bed and my father, who rarely drank alcohol, would occasionally indulge and have a bit of Brandy or dessert wine with it. The tin took up the entire bottom shelf of the refrigerator and the rim was always copiously wrapped in tape. The sweet, alcohol-infused smell when the lid was removed gave a hint at the red wine or brandy my grandmother used to cure the cake.
An acquired taste, my grandmother only made the cake for those who enjoyed it. The short list included my uncle David, my father and myself. When I went off to college, I graduated to getting my very own Fruit Cake. After my grandfather’s passing it got more difficult for my grandmother to continue the tradition. I was deployed to Bosnia during the Christmas of 2003 and in one of my letters home I offered to take over the tradition of making the Fruit Cake.
My grandmother mailed me the recipe and informed me it was top secret — she had never shared the recipe with anyone. The recipe was given to her when she worked as the house girl for the Fort Benjamin Harrison Post Commander in the late 1930’s. It was a magazine recipe. The Commander’s wife had my grandmother use it to make Fruit Cakes as gifts. While some people hate the idea of getting one, Fruit Cake is a luxury gift because they are so expensive and time consuming to make. My grandmother began making Fruit Cake with the recipe after that until I took over the tradition in 2004. I have been making Fruit Cake every winter for nine years. It’s one of the last remaining ties I have to my dad’s family.
2014 would mark my tenth year making them, but I’ve decided against it. The decision was difficult, emotional, and made me examine my beliefs and myself. To explain this, I need to provide a short description of where things stand with my Dad’s side of the family.
The connection between my dad’s family and mine has been lacking for a long time. Who is responsible for that? Good question. Yet I’m certain the finger is pointed at me. I won’t deny that I’m comfortable with the current level of communication. In my opinion, if anyone on that side misses me, they know where to find me. We all have access to the post office, email, telephones, and Internet. Of the forty some relatives on that side of the family, four were at my wedding, one was at my father’s funeral, and none were around after the birth of my children. I’d enjoy more frequent contact, but I don’t pine for it or let my feelings get hurt by their lack of interest in my family or me.
My sister and I are fifteen years apart and not very close. But a few years ago she had no place to live. My husband and I took her in and let her live with us, drive our car, all rent free. Within a few months there was a falling out and she had to leave. Last spring my stepmother asked me for the fruitcake recipe so she could give it to my sister with whom I still had no contact. She told me my sister wanted to enter it in a heritage recipe baking lot at the Minnesota State Fair. I told my stepmother no, it’s a tradition and a secret recipe. This summer my sister reconnected with me briefly on Facebook. There were no apologies, but we were speaking again. This past Sunday she messaged me and I got a knot in my stomach. I knew the only reason she was reaching out to me was because she wanted something from me and I suspected it was the fruitcake recipe. I admonished myself for thinking the worst of her. Why was I jumping to conclusions? I needed to think the best and not the worst.
Unfortunately, my gut instinct was right and she wanted the fruitcake recipe. I was conflicted. Our grandmother had guarded this recipe, never given it out, and gave it to me only when I agreed to take on the tradition. Was it really mine to give to whomever, or was it my responsibility to honor and respect my grandmother by keeping it secret?
Our grandmother is still alive and I told my sister to ask her for it. I decided if Grandma wanted her to have it she would give it to her. My sister said she had asked for it and according to her, Grandma doesn’t know where it is. My sister insisted I give it to her saying, “Why is this such a big deal?”
What an excellent question.
I was angry as this was the only reason she contacted me. I felt protective and suspicious of her and her motives. My selfish pride was chanting, “No! It’s mine, it was given to me, and you will never, ever, never get this recipe from me!” Knowing this was pride, I wanted to cave and just hand it over and humble myself. Then I was hit with an overwhelming sadness that handing this over would equal me handing over the final tie I had to my Dad’s family since his death. The one consistent thing we shared. A tradition I loved and one which brought back happy memories of my father.
Thoughts and emotion overwhelmed me and so I did the one thing I knew I should, I prayed about it. The answer was simple and came quickly. My actions need not be a reaction to the past or what happened, they needed to be acts of love and reflect God’s grace. I needed to let go of the tradition, forgive the past, and move on. Then a passage jumped out at me this past Tuesday during Bible study and reinforced what was put on my heart:
Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye. – Mark 7:13 (KJV)
It was what I needed to hear. It was a clear reminder that my focus needs to be on God. I needed to think about love and forgiveness and not be ruled by tradition and jealous sentiment.
I’ve enjoyed the fruitcake tradition and now I am letting it go. My sister can take on the tradition, enter the recipe in the state fair, or do nothing at all with it. I will not let a tradition or a cake recipe wrestle away my peace of mind.
Here is the original recipe my grandmother sent to me in 2004: