Friday, December 16, 2011

Put the cake back in Christmas

Oft overlooked in seasonal fussing about “Happy Holidays” and putting “Christ” back in “Christmas” are the equally worrying issues of fruitcake and mincemeat. ‘Tisn’t the season with neither of the latter, either.

I am so partial to fruitcake that when my mother asked what she could send for Christmas during that year I spent in Vietnam, I asked for fruitcake --- and she baked and sent it. It traveled well. Fruitcake generally does. Fruitcake is so dense it will stop bullets, too.

Mother specialized in two varieties. One was dark and rich, mostly dates, raisins and nutmeats. The other incorporated more conventional dried and candied fruits and was lighter (in color; fruitcakes are never “light” and can double as doorstops, or weapons in a pinch) and stickier.

Another favorite Christmas memory --- the year a colleague’s husband was gifted with a fruitcake baked by the Trappists at Gethsemani Abbey, down in Kentucky --- where Thomas Merton used to hang out. That family didn’t eat fruitcake. So I inherited it. Bliss.

Now I rely on Walmart. Seriously. That was one of the reasons I ended up in Knoxville late yesterday afternoon. The other reasons involved Chariton Hy-Vee, which does not do fruitcake.

Plus for some reason, the local store was out of broccoli (?!?) yesterday, the seedless “holiday” grapes looked as if they’d been stomped on, I didn’t recognize any of the checkers and the one I got was cranky and no smiles were evident in any of the aisles. It seemed like a good day to shop elsewhere.

I always recommend Walmart’s “Fruit Cake Ring” (stay away from the cellophane-wrapped fruit cake squares --- they taste like cardboard). But the rings, stashed in the refrigerator, will keep forever and improve with age. I only bought one, but it’s not going to last, should have gotten another (at least), will have to go back.

Just as it isn’t Christmas without fruitcake, so too without mincemeat pie. None Such --- in a jar --- works well. But no jars were to be found at Hy-Vee yesterday either. Only the reconsitutable kind --- in little boxes, $4 each, two required per pie.

The jars aren’t any cheaper, but at least you don’t have to reconstitute the mince. Besides, I like to save None Such jars.

And if you do reconstitute mincemeat, baking a pie becomes a two-day operation. Don’t try to use dried mincemeat the day you resurrect it --- give it a day or two to settle and absorb.

Walmart didn’t seem to have any mincemeat at all, however, although perhaps I just missed it. That’s the disadvantage to shopping in unfamiliar territory.

So I’ll go back to Hy-Vee, buy two boxes and make my pie --- maybe next week.

In all fairness --- although Walmart does do fruitcake better, you can’t beat Hy-Vee deep-dish frozen pie crusts --- so I’ll use those, one for the bottom, another for the top.

That way it’ll be an ecumenical Christmas --- cake from Walmart, pie from Hy-Vee.


Ed said...

Can't say I've ever had mince meat pie nor the opportunity to try it but I have had fruit cake and love it. I never understood why it got a bad rap.

Nash said...

"‘Tisn’t the season with neither of the latter, either." I love this sentence, but can think of no possible scenario where I might use it. It is a good way to start a conversation on fruitcake, though.
Dark fruitcake with dates sounds more my style. Bet you don’t find that at Wal-Mart.

Wanda Horn said...

I sing the praises of fruit cake every year but haven't had a decent piece of it in years. Your mother's "dark" recipe with the dates sounds like something that would make my tastebuds very happy indeed. I live less than 10 minutes from Walmart; tomorrow I will check with their bakery!

Charles M. Wright said...

My father yearned for the mince meat made on the family farm when he was a child. It was made with meat. Yes, real meat. One of the customers of Wright's Grocery and Market learned about this and would bring a quart of this mince meat to my mother for dad's Christmas pie. I never knew it is was made with pork or beef. I only remember that if I hadn't been told, I never would have suspected there was meat in the pie.