Glorious and Dreaded Fruitcake

It’s that time of year: fudge, divinity, Christmas cookies, gingerbread men, FRUITCAKE.

photo courtesy of wikimedia commons
photo courtesy of wikimedia commons D Ramey Logan

Now, I’ll be frank with you. I’m in the minority. I like fruitcake; actually, I love it. I was five or six years old the first time I had any. My piano teacher held a recital/party in her home one Christmas, and she served slices of fruitcake on her fancy little plates. I wanted more, but I’d been raised to wait for a hostess to offer seconds. If she offered me another piece, I’ve forgotten it. Of all the marvelous holiday treats my mother created at Christmas, fruitcake was never one of them. Her orange slice cake was as close as she ever came to making such a treat, and it was good. But not as good as a good old-fashioned fruitcake.

Since fruitcake has a unique texture and flavor that is hard to duplicate, and the fragrance practically shrieks “Holiday!”, I wondered where this dessert originated. I found out that no one knows for sure. My research tells me Roman soldiers had fruitcake with them waaay back in the good ol’ days when they traveled because it was, and is, virtually indestructible. They added raisins, pine nuts and pomegranate seeds to barley mash. Sounds terrible.

Apparently Egyptians tucked fruitcake in with their dead folks when they sent them on to the hereafter. I suspect the reason fruitcake was use instead of, oh, say, apples or oranges or a ham sandwich was because of the staying power of these cakes.

The Crusaders packed fruitcake on their own adventures. They brought fruit back home from long distances, but the fruits often spoiled. They found if they dried it, added honey and spices, it would make the trip much better. And because a lot of the fruits came from the Holy Land, it seemed appropriate to serve at Christmas or Easter, and hence our traditions. A thousand years ago in Italy, a thin chewy cake called “panforte” was made, and still is. It could be that this “panforte” was the result of the Crusaders ingenuity.

Its dense texture, color and flavor is dependent upon nuts, sugars, dried fruits, liquors, and a variety of spices. A fruitcake properly preserved then packaged well can be kept, unspoiled, for years. I doubt, however, that a good fruitcake has even a modicum of MSG in it.

Happily, I live near two places where fruitcake “to die for” is made. College of the Ozarks, in Point Lookout, Missouri offers wonderfully flavored desserts made by the students. https://www.cofo.edu/Page/About-C-of-O/Visiting-C-of-O/Sites-to-See/Fruitcakes-and-Other-Goodies.354.html

The Assumption Abbey, near Ava, Missouri is another welcome resource for a fruitcake lover like me. https://www.assumptionabbey.org/fruitcakes.asp

Lucky for me, my husband doesn’t like any of them, no matter where they come from. That’s fine; it simply means more for yours truly!

May you all have a blessed Christmas, with or without the glorious and dreaded fruitcake!

 

(this article previously published in Christian Fiction Online Magazine)

December 12, 2015

Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015

That darker, deeper, more serious book I’ve mentioned a time or two has been giving me fits. Many authors don’t bother to title their books. They’d rather let their editors do it for them. Not me. I need a real title in order to feel as if I’m working on a real book.

I have spent hours seeking a title. I poured over the Psalms, Ecclesiastes, Shakespeare. I looked in my trusty, beat-up old book of quotes. I scoured the internet. I meditated. I sent the story outline to some friends and begged their help. I developed a short list of possibilities, but none of it resonated.  I was ready to give up and call it “Untitled Book”.

At my desk a few days later, I found a small slip of paper clinging wetly to the bottom of my glass of sweet tea. I peeled it off, but just as I pitched the damp scrap into the trash basket, I noticed something written on it.  At some point in my frenzied search for a title, I had scrawled a snippet from Wordsworth’s Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood.  Five words.  “The glory and the dream”.

There it was. I had my title. Apparently I’d had it for days and didn’t realize it.

Funny how we don’t recognize what we need until we’ve exhausted our resources and decide to give up. At that point, we discover our answer in the strangest places. It’s been there all along.

December 8, 2015, Tuesday

I am not a multi-tasker.

Because I dislike chaos and confusion (i.e., too many things going on at once), I tend to work on one book at a time until it’s finished. If an idea for a different story occurs to me while I’m writing, I make a note of it, but continue to write. To stop working on one story in order to fiddle with a new idea is the perfect plan for creating stacks of unfinished manuscripts. It’s why a lot of talented writers remain unpublished. But I digress.

Right now, I am going against the grain. I am working on two books at once, and it feels a little weird.

You read that right. Just don’t spread it around and ruin my reputation as a drudge.

One of the books is a simple cozy mystery. I created a nice little road map for the plot a few months ago. If I choose to do so, and have few interruptions, I can get the book written in a month.

The other book is a deep, dark, psychological tale. It is not a story to be dashed off in a flurry of enthusiasm. No indeed. A page or two, then it’s time to rest, to ponder, to meditate, to prepare for the next page or two.  This book, too, has its map laid out, ready for me to follow. Unlike the mystery’s fun and gentle path, the written journey for this one is filled with metaphorical rugged valleys, tangled forests, churning waters, dangerous grounds, sudden drop-offs, betrayal, bloodshed, love, hate, goodness and darkness. There is no hurrying through this story. Word by word, slow and steady, examined and re-examined.  The writing of it is going to take a while.

I’m interested in how other people fulfill their goals. Would you please share with me? Do you wait for circumstances to be just right, everything exactly in place? Do you take one goal and work hard for only that one? Do you plow ahead and get everything done at once? Do you flounder and struggle and end up quitting in frustration?

Are You a Pumpkin Eater?

The old nursery rhyme comes to mind at this time of year:

Peter, Peter, pumpkin eater!
Had a wife and couldn’t keep her.
So he put her in a pumpkin shell,
And there he kept her, very well.

I used to think this rhyme came from Britain where most of our nursery rhymes seem to originate. However, in my research, I learned pumpkins really are not very well known or utilized in the U.K. In fact, one of my Brit friends said she’s familiar with pumpkin seeds and pumpkin soup, but for pies and casseroles as we have here in the U.S., not so much.

photo courtesy of wikicommons
photo courtesy of wikicommons

Our beloved pumpkins are part of the gourd family, and have been in North America for at least 5,000 years. They can be used as food in everything from soups to breads to desserts, but they are also used for décor during the autumn season. Did you know that the popular jack-o’-lantern we love at Halloween originated in Ireland, but it wasn’t until the Irish moved to America and discovered pumpkins that these grinning, candle-lit lanterns were created. Before then, our Irish ancestors carved jack-o’-lanterns from turnips, and even potatoes.

Native Americans used to cut strips of pumpkin, which they then pounded flat. Once the strips were dried, they were used for weaving.

Pumpkin blossoms are often dipped in batter and fried as a delicious snack.

Besides being such a versatile food, pumpkins exude a lot of nutritional value. They are low in calories, fat and sodium. Their high fiber content is beneficial for overall health. The seeds and the seed oil provide a great source for zinc and unsaturated fatty acids. They also contain plenty of vitamins A and B, potassium, protein and iron.

If you decide you want to buy a pumpkin and make pies or casseroles from it, here are a few tips to remember before purchasing.
• The stem should be intact
• Smaller pumpkins have more tender, flavorful flesh
• It should feel heavy for its size
• The color should be completely orange
• Check for soft spots, cracks or splits.
• Look for holes where insects might have been

Everyone has a favorite pumpkin pie recipe (usually the one Grandma always favored).

photo courtesy nukkus/wikimedia commons
photo courtesy nukkus/wikimedia commons

I won’t offer a variation of the popular old standard. However, many of us are mindful of our waistlines, especially as the holiday season approaches, and lingers. If you love pumpkin pie, but prefer to keep an eye on the calories, here’s a great recipe that’s simple and very tasty:

Low-Cal Pumpkin Pie

2 cups cooked and mashed pumpkin, or canned
1 package sugar-free instant vanilla pudding
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (or spiced to your taste)
12 oz low-fat whipped topping
Mix the first three ingredients with ½ of the whipped topping, and place in a cooked, cooled crust or in a graham cracker crust. Top with the remainder of whipped topping and refrigerate.

For more information about the history, the use, the cooking or carving of pumpkins, here are some great websites: www.pumpkinnook.com  www.About.Com  www.history.com

Or, do your own Goggle search for more great ways to use our wonderful pumpkins!

Do you have your own favorite pumpkin-based recipe?

 

Journal Entry for November 17, 2015

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Oh my ears and whiskers.

*takes out watch and looks at it*

I do feel somewhat like the white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland: busy, late, more than a little anxious.

You may have noticed that I’ve been “away.” Not away, away. But away from journal writing. In the flurry of these last few months, I neglected it terribly.

This has long been a problem with me and diaries. More pressing matters tend to push journaling into the background until it resembles the underside of my bed, all cobwebby and dusty and forgotten.

Update: I’ve finished the projects I was working on earlier this year.

Also, I have finished the first book in what I hope will be a new series for children. It is in the editor’s queue right now. Keep your fingers crossed!

I’m writing a new book for yet another line of mysteries for Annie’s Fiction. Confidentiality dictates that I can’t tell you too much about that yet, but I’ll share more when I can.

Then, there’s the new book I’m working on. It is not under contract nor have I even approached any editor with the premise, but I really like it. A serious story set in rural 1930s Georgia about the bastard child of a poor white man and beautiful black woman. Stepping a little out of my familiar zone on this one, but I want to be stretched as a writer. This book will stretch me.

So, as you see, I’ve not been lazy. Just away.

Until next time ….