Truman Capote and the Food Bank

Dec 232009
 

51TMZBP0W2L._SX500_Stephanie Stiavetti of Wasabimon 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.

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  10 Responses to “Truman Capote and the Food Bank”

  1. Thank you for the wonderful Christmas blog post.

    I like your idea of the donation to the food bank, but this year I tried something different with our community college adopt-a-family program. I bought scrip from one of the local Catholic Diocese schools. The way it works is you purchase a gift card for a certain amount of money, in my case, I bought a Basha’s card for $10. The recipient of the card gets $10 worth of groceries and can refill the card and the school gets a percentage of the value of the card. You give the gift card to the recipient and a gift to the school with no extra outlay of cash. The schools use the money to pay teachers, reduce students tuition or buy needed supplies. It’s a win-win situation.

    Have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy, Healthy, Prosperous New Year, and please keep on writing and tweeting.

    • Janice, what a worthwhile program. I like the idea of gift cards where people can buy the groceries they need.

  2. Excellent post, and it prompted me to donate. I was baking fruitcake today http://tinyurl.com/yk3xs2k a 1950’s recipe from my mom that I adapted for Sun-Maid Raisins. It’s pretty, and many people who think they don’t like fruitcake often like this one!

    • Thank you Rosemary. How fitting that you were making fruitcake when this post came out. It’s gorgeous!

  3. What a wonderful, perfect story. It hit me at just the right moment, and filled me up. Thank you!

  4. “A Christmas Memory” is read every year in our house. I love Mr. Haha Jones – so terrifying! and Buddy’s friend and her dog, and the homemade kites. A perfectly written story, and probably the nicest piece every written about fruitcakes. Thanks for the reminder about food banks, the need is great in my community, too.

  5. I have an old, beat-up photocopy of this wonderful story that I made during my college years. I used to pull it out and read it every year but haven’t for a while. Now I must go and look for it again. Thank you for reminding me of it.

    And food banks are truly a wonderful way for everyone to play Santa – all year long. They are very active in France.

    Happy holidays to you and yours!

  6. This is a wonderful post – I had not read Capote’s piece before, and it triggered memories.

    My mother, known far and wide as the World’s Second Worst Cook (we always try to leave first place open for new contenders) was, surprisingly, a master at sublime fruitcake. Her recipe was coveted, her treats begun long ahead. She debunked the theory that there are only six fruitcakes in the world, and people just keep giving them to each other. Next to her scent and its memories, her fruitcake is the thing I miss most about her at Christmas.

    These days I settle for Christmas Strata, my Italian husband’s mother’s secret recipe (they all are – she never wrote anything down and measurement were vague at best). It begins, of course, with panettone, glazed chestnuts, then layers of pancetta and Gorgonzola – and some liberal spirits. We had ours on Boxing Day this year.

    Thanks for a great addition to the holiday files.

    • Hi Tracey, the strata sounds fantastic. I’ve never heard of a combination like that one.

      I hope you get to read the whole essay some time.

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