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Fruitcake

People get snarky about fruitcake. This puzzles me. My mother’s mother made fruitcake that dazzled plate and palate.

She started before Thanksgiving. There was one — and only one — place to buy the fruit, and that was the basement of Goldblatt’s, that fortress of a department store whose Christmas window was immortalized in “A Christmas Story.” Our fruitcakes were born there.

Then came the Christmas spirits, poured. The fruit soaked at languid length in Southern Comfort.

A whole day was set aside for the baking. Walnuts and fruit were chopped into acceptably toothsome chunks, brown paper cut into strips and buttered. Pans lined. Butter mounded in a vast bowl, held in Grandma’s lap. Sometimes I got to add the sugar, little by little, as Grandma creamed by hand — and I do mean with her hand in the butter and sugar. She whipped that like a Kitchen Aid. She’d give me a fingertip of the wonderful stuff. Nothing like sweet fat to make a memory.

The batter, with its emerald and ruby lumps, was carefully allocated to the pans, and then came the citrus-gilded shimmering oven-breath. Warm golden fragrance.

Cooled in the brown paper, sprinkled with more Southern Comfort, the cakes were wrapped tightly and tucked away to age. When Christmas loomed near, it was brown paper off, glaze on. Candied fruit and walnuts arranged kaleidoscopically atop the cakes, then brushed with the Karo syrup glaze. Those cakes sparkled. And, when cut, they were stained glass.

I cheerfully and unapologetically picked out all the nuts and blissfully, with pure porcine abandon, glutted myself on the moistest, butteriest, fruitiest cake that ever there was.

The day came when the last fruitcake crumb was indeed the last one. Arthritis closed the kitchen. And I was forever stymied by fruitcake snarkiness.