In the course of our discussion of the various and sundry subjects that always come up during a Posse meeting, we somehow got onto that object of Christmas folklore, mincemeat pie.
Who'd ever had it? A couple of us. Who really knew what it was?
None of us, it turned out.
A couple members had mothers or grandmothers who used to make it but weren't sure what went into mincemeat nor could they remember what it tasted like, or if they'd ever even tried it. They only recalled that their mothers and grandmothers used store-bought mincemeat from a jar.
Thus we wondered: Does "mincemeat" involve actual minced meat? Or is it a figurative term referring to the "meat" of the "minced" fruit?
One of the gals grabbed her smart phone and pulled up the Martha Stewart website to put the matter to rest.
It turns out that Martha Stewart's mincemeat pie recipe calls for store-bought mincemeat from a jar. We don't know what's in the jar of mincemeat Martha used, as she didn't didn't share. She probably doesn't know, either.
So the mincemeat mystery goes on.
But when the subject turned to fruitcake, ah there we were all of us more savvy. Amidst the laughter in response to the question of whether anybody actually likes fruitcake my hand shot up. "I like fruitcake!", I declared, "I love fruitcake!"
What I meant, though, was that I love - or rather used to love - the Christmas fruitcakes that my parents used to make. But my love of my parents' fruitcake wasn't always so.
Thus I did not bounce with excitement like a young Truman Capote when fruitcake weather arrived at our house. Rather I gave my parents' labors barely a bored glance while passing through the kitchen where they happily cut up mounds of uninteresting and unappetizing ingredients - candied and dried fruits and nuts that they soaked in whiskey then thew into a great pot to be coated with flour then a thick heavy batter that they grappled to mix and stir until they had a pot full of dense, knobby whiskey-gloop that they'd pour into several dozen loaf pans then put into the oven for slow baking.
After the cakes were baked and cooled they'd "water" (my parents' word) each cake well with whiskey before they wrapped them in cloth, plastic wrap and aluminum foil then set them aside to age for several weeks. Halfway through the aging period they'd unwrap the cakes and refresh them with a second whiskey-watering, and then they'd give them a final watering before re-wrapping them for distribution.
Of the fruitcakes my father used to say, "The purpose of the batter is to hold the fruit together and the purpose of the fruit is to hold the whiskey together."
Ha, ha, very funny, I used to think back in my youth of my father's bon mot. I thought the fruitcakes were flipping inedible.
But then, of course, the fruitcakes weren't meant for children, a hard concept for a fairly pampered child like myself to wrap her head around. The fruitcakes were gifts for friends and neighbors and to send to out-of-town family, all of whom I assumed feigned delight at receiving these ugly, poisonous-tasting things.
Years later, when Tom and I were deliriously happy young newly-weds living in Louisville Kentucky,
"Wow, this smells, good," Tom said after he'd unwrapped the layers revealing the dreaded Christmas fruitcake.
"It's a whiskey-brick," I, the tea-totaler, retorted dismissively .
"It's delicious!" Tom exclaimed.
"No, it's really good! You gotta try this!"
"Oh," said I. I cut off a small chunk and took a small bite. It was a bright burst of heavenly flavors and textures, all fruits and nuts with just enough cake to hold them together, melt-in-your-mouth moist and rich and oh, so sweet, with just the slightest aromatic tinge that made the whole confection all the more wonderful.
"Oh, wow this really is good!" I cried, wondering if my parents had drastically altered their fruitcake recipe from when I was a child. "It's incredible!"
But I could tell right away that this fruitcake needed one more ingredient to make it zoom straight up into the stratosphere of deliciousness. "A scoop of vanilla ice cream!" I proclaimed. How right I was.
And how, from then on, did I, Tom, and eventually my children (who never shared my childhood anti-fruitcake bias) look forward to receiving our Christmas fruitcake, which we all agreed reached its true zenith when accompanied by vanilla ice cream, preferably Breyers Vanilla Bean.
My father died 16 years ago, still my mother continued making the fruitcakes into her early 90's.
But my mother is 95-and-a-half now,
Today I'd give $1,000 for a slice of my parents' fruitcake with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
But all the money and technology in the world can't bring back a thing we long for once it's crossed over into the bitter-sweet ghost-world of our memories.