OCTOBER

OCTOBER

December 10, 2010

The Best of the Batch!

Imagine a morning in late November. A coming of winter morning more than twenty years ago. Consider the kitchen of a spreading old house in a country town. A great black stove is its main feature; but there is also a big round table and a fireplace with two rocking chairs placed in front of it. Just today the fireplace commenced its seasonal roar.



A woman with shorn white hair is standing at the kitchen window. She is wearing tennis shoes and a shapeless gray sweater over a summery calico dress. She is small and sprightly, like a bantam hen; but, due to a long youthful illness, her shoulders are pitifully hunched. Her face is remarkable—not unlike Lincoln's, craggy like that, and tinted by sun and wind; but it is delicate too, finely boned, and her eyes are sherry-colored and timid. "Oh my," she exclaims, her breath smoking the windowpane, "it's fruitcake weather!"

The person to whom she is speaking is myself. I am seven; she is sixty-something. We are cousins, very distant ones, and we have lived together—well, as long as I can remember.

The black stove, stoked with coal and firewood, glows like a lighted pumpkin. Eggbeaters whirl, spoons spin round in bowls of butter and sugar, vanilla sweetens the air, ginger spices it; melting, nose-tingling odors saturate the kitchen, suffuse the house, drift out to the world on puffs of chimney smoke. In four days our work is done. Thirty-one cakes, dampened with whiskey, bask on windowsills and shelves.


 Who are they for?


Friends. Not necessarily neighbor friends: indeed, the larger share is intended for persons we've met maybe once, perhaps not at all. People who've struck our fancy. Like President Roosevelt.


A Christmas Memory...........By Truman Capote




These were Daddy's specialty!
Estelle's Favorite Fruitcake Cookies
1/2 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
3 cups flour
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
3 T. buttermilk
4 eggs
1/2 t. nutmeg
1/2 t. cinnamon
2 cups candied cherries (red and green)
2 cups candied pineapple
3 cups chopped pecans
1/2 cup raisins

Cream together the softened butter and sugar until well blended. Add eggs along with buttermilk and blend. Sift dry ingredients separately then add to the creamed butter/sugar mixture. Add fruit and pecans and mix well. Drop by spoonfuls onto a greased baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes @ 350 degrees.



Estelle's Milk Punch
8 cups 98% fat-free vanilla ice cream
3/4 cup bourbon
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
4 teaspoons bittersweet chocolate, grated


Combine first 5 ingredients in a blender; process just until smooth. Pour 1/2 cup ice cream mixture into each of 12 glasses; sprinkle each serving with about 1/4 teaspoon chocolate. Serve immediately.
For a few Novembers she continues to bake her fruitcakes single-handed; not as many, but some: and, of course, she always sends me "the best of the batch." Also, in every letter she encloses a dime wadded in toilet paper: "See a picture show and write me the story." But gradually in her letters she tends to confuse me with her other friend, the Buddy who died in the 1880's; more and more, thirteenths are not the only days she stays in bed: a morning arrives in November, a leafless birdless coming of winter morning, when she cannot rouse herself to exclaim: "Oh my, it's fruitcake weather! "



And when that happens, I know it. A message saying so merely confirms a piece of news some secret vein had already received, severing from me an irreplaceable part of myself, letting it loose like a kite on a broken string. That is why, walking across a school campus on this particular December morning, I keep searching the sky. As if I expected to see, rather like hearts, a lost pair of kites hurrying toward heaven.






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