By Laura Ford
To an extent that might surprise children today, my five siblings and I looked forward to the food of Christmas. My mother was a good cook whose desserts were always homemade. But she maintained a watchful eye on our intake of sweets for most of the year. Our treats were usually limited to a weekly cake baked for Sunday dinner. This caution was thrown over, however, at the holidays. Mother loved to bake special dishes that became traditions. Gifts to our teachers were always cakes, usually topped by creamy frosting decorated with colored flaked coconut. As she cooked, we kids received small lumps of brown sugar and licked batter and dough from spoons and mixing bowls. Most of all, we loved to watch her make fruitcakes! Those who laugh at fruitcake never tasted my Mom’s. The fruit was cut in pieces, dusted with flour, and then folded into the spiced cake batter and baked at low temperature for hours. Aged for weeks, it could be cut into paper-thin slices reminiscent of stained glass.
While never my mother’s equal in the kitchen, I have a few traditional Christmas foods that give me joy. I bake panettone, in memory of a brother-in-law who annually made it for friends. And for the first time this year, I have tried my hand at a fruitcake. It’s still aging; time will tell.
Sometimes I’m reminded of the joy that special food can bring when I greet our homeless friends at the back door on Tuesday afternoons. Occasionally, we have food left from special events at Pullen that we can arrange attractively on trays for these guests. Cookies, cheese and crackers, fruit, whatever–we volunteers delight in these items, pleased to have a special food we can offer to supplement the standard fare we hand out each week. When food is scarce, even small treats, such as hazelnut-flavored coffee rather than the norm—can brighten our one hour together.