Stephanie Stiavetti of The Culinary Life asked about my favorite holiday food writing. Easy. It’s by Truman Capote, an author I adore.
Capote wrote a story for Mademoiselle magazine in 1956, based on his recollection of growing up in the country. It was made into a slim book called A Christmas Memory.
Buddy, the narrator, lives with a poor family. He looks forward to Christmas every year, when he and his 60-something cousin make fruitcakes. They send the fruitcakes to acquaintances and to people they’ve never met, like President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Here’s an excerpt:
“We eat our supper (cold biscuits, bacon, blackberry jam) and discuss tomorrow. Tomorrow the kind of work I like best begins: buying. Cherries and citron, ginger and vanilla and canned Hawaiian pineapple, rinds and raisins and walnuts and whiskey and oh, so much flour, butter, so many eggs, spices, flavorings: why, we’ll need a pony to pull the buggy home.
“But before these purchases can be made, there is the question of money. Neither of us has any. But one way or another we do each year accummulate Christmas savings, a Fruitcake Fund.
“Of the ingredients that go into our fruitcakes, whiskey’s the most expensive, as well as the hardest to obtain: State law forbidgs its sale. But everybody knows you can buy a bottle from Mr. Haha Jones. We pay him with nickels and dimes and pennies. ‘Tell you what,’ he proposes, pouring the money back into our bead purse. ‘Just send me one of them fruitcakes instead.’
“The black stove, stoked with coal and firewood, glows like a lighted pumpkin. Eggbeaters whirl, spoons spin round in bowls of buttter and sugar, vanilla sweetens the air, ginger spices it; melting, nose-tingling odors saturate the kitchen, suffuse the house, drift out to the world on puffs of chimney smoke. In four days our work is done. Thiry-one cakes, dampened with whiskey, bask on window sills and shelves.
“Now a nude December fig branch grates against the window. The kitchen is empty, the cakes are gone; yesterday we carted the last of them to the post office, where the cost of stamps turned our purse inside out. We’re broke.”
This holiday season, many people are broke like Buddy, choosing between paying rent (not making fruitcake) and feeding their kids. If food banks were around then, Buddy might have got a bag of groceries from a church.
In honor of Buddy’s last dime, please donate to your local food bank. Mine is the Alameda County Community Food Bank, located in the poorest county of the San Francisco Bay Area. I served on the board for nine years. This holiday season, it faces the highest demand in its 24-year history.
Happy holidays, and may you have many hours of blissful baking and cooking.