Truman Capote’s 1956 short story “A Christmas Memory” opens on a chilly, late November morning to a young boy’s surrogate mother looking out the kitchen window. Her breath fogs the pane and “Oh my,” she exclaims to him, “it’s fruitcake weather!"
BY: D. GILSON
I’ve been thinking about this boy and this woman a lot recently, as my own breath fogs the frosty mornings and the local food co-op in our New England town puts out its annual order forms for fruitcake, displayed carefully between menorah candles and commemorative winter solstice prayer cards.
My mother doesn’t bake. But lo-and-behold, every holiday season a fruitcake adorned the giant red sideboard next to our kitchen table. My mother and I would drive to the local Sam’s Club, grab Diet Cokes from the hot dog stand, peruse the aisles of colossal cheese and salami trays, gallon jugs of Jack Daniels, permafrost boxes of Hot Pockets and Pizza Rolls capable of feeding a small legion of junior high boys for the better part of a month. We’d end at the bakery, plop a shrink-wrapped, over-sized fruitcake into our cart, and make for home. Freshness isn’t an issue with fruitcake, the food that, along with Twinkies, may very well feed us in a post-nuclear apocalypse.
Our fruitcake held court upon the vintage milk glass cake stand for a month or so, a month when we’d peck at it until New Year’s, when my mother would throw what remained in the backyard, where stray cats and birds would finish what we couldn’t.
Yes, it’s popular to hate on fruitcake. And though I don’t particularly like it — even the artisanal ones this site will inevitably link to, made by hipster bakers with pretty blogs and thick framed glasses smudged with organic, locally-sourced, hand-ground flour — I want to offer you five uses for fruitcake that don’t require eating them.
Rise to social media stardom. Jesus is not the reason for the season, and Santa is drunk on a beach in Cancun. This leaves room for a new holiday star: you. Bake a fruitcake (or buy one, it doesn’t matter). Snap a picture of it next to your bare ass. Tag with #FruitCAKE. Drop to Insta, Tumblr, Facebook, Reddit (even trolling, closeted Republicans need holiday eye candy). Watch your likes grow and your star rise, bringing many a wise man to lay in your manger.
Win the passive-aggressive winter Olympics. That racist cousin whose name you always draw for the family gift exchange? That co-worker who sends you “Long Live Lady Gaga” playlists on Spotify? That guy who gave you chlamydia junior year but is now married to a rich patron with a Lower East Side loft and cabin in Asheville? Yeah, fuck ‘em with kindness. Bake the driest fruitcake you can, wrap it in butcher paper, tie it with twine, add a sprig of spruce, and send it alongside the happiest holiday card you can muster. Up goes your karma count, no one can say you didn’t try, and hey, maybe your untouched fruitcake will draw rats to their well-appointed kitchen.
Plan a date. Tell your crush to bring dried fruit and the door will be open. Splay yourself upon the counter, covered with flour, eggs, butter…whatever else goes in a fruitcake. See what happens.
Throw a costume party. Invite every gay man and every woman you know to a Fruitcake Party. Dress: ho ho ho. Décor: low lighting. Drink: liquid fruitcake (orange zest, a cinnamon stick, but mostly gin). Distraction: Love Actually on loop. Don’t forget: carb and gluten free fruitcake bites and plenty of mistletoe.
Reconnect with your mother. You don’t call enough. You haven’t given her grandchildren. You live so far away in that city now. And yet, you are naturally her favorite. Spend an afternoon baking with your mother, margaritas in your cups and Dolly Parton on the stereo. Tell her about the boy who broke your heart last month. Let her tell you he wasn’t good enough anyway.
D. Gilson is the author of I Will Say This Exactly One Time: Essays (Sibling Rivalry, 2015) and Crush with Will Stockton (Punctum Books, 2014). He is an Assistant Professor of English at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, and his work has appeared in Threepenny Review, PANK, The Indiana Review, The Rumpus, and as a notable essay in Best American Essays. Find D. at dgilson.com or on Instagram @dgilson.