Fruit Cake, Hard Candy, and Cherry Cordials

blur cake close up cream
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I know what most of you must be thinking: gross, gross, and gross. These three things I’m sure have been the un-delight of many a Christmas gift receiver over the years. But, for me, these three once thought not so delightful treats trigger some pretty awesome memories.

Although we live in a world where the sky is the limit in regard to Christmas gifting, I find myself at this time of year wondering what people are thinking, staring in amazement at the behaviors I witness in the stores, and making myself a promise to stop the madness in my own household whenever possible. While true enough we live in a pretty wealthy nation and the mantra of the times seems to be more is better, I have come to the determination that more is simply more. While I’ll be the first to admit to certain indulgences I afford myself, in the grand scheme of things, I’m mindful they don’t become obsessions. It’s okay to have a treat unto thyself occasionally. That’s why they’re called treats. When we indulge on a regular basis, see above…more is simply more…becomes too much.

I was talking to a cashier in WalMart a couple of days ago and I asked her how her day was going. She looked at me like I had sprouted a second head and maybe a third eye to go with it. I know from experience in retail for some years (when you’re married to the military you’re often a Jill of All Trades in regard to career choices due to moving so often, retail was one of mine) that people generally don’t give a fiddler’s damn about the workers out in these stores trying to make all their dreams come true. In fact, they think retail workers from the guy pushing the broom straight to the top of management are magicians and they can magically make items appear and at a lesser cost than they wanted to pay. Really? Wow. If only I’d taken that class when I was in retail I may not have suffered so many tongue lashings when a distraught man declared that little Johnny was going to have a fit if a bright,shiny **fill in the blank** wasn’t under the tree on Christmas morning. And how pray tell was that my fault? Retail cashiers and stockers neither control the quantity of received goods nor their price. And they sure don’t control when the masses decide to go last minute hunting for these items after the shopper has known for 365 days that the grand holiday is coming. I digress…back to the cashier.

When she recovered from her initial shock, she smiled at me…see, it does work–smiles produce smiles. Remember that nasty shoppers of the world and apply it. SMILE. You attract many more flies with honey than vinegar. So, I started a bit of a conversation with this poor disheveled woman and during the course of it, she told me people had lost sight of what this time of year really means. That’s so very true. People, in general, seem to have forgotten the meaning of the season. Good will toward men. It’s the season of giving and caring. And the giving part isn’t in bucks–it’s in giving of oneself. Love. It’s the season of renewal, when you can let go of your transgressions and move forward and express to others what they mean to you. Even total strangers. It’s the time to show someone you are thinking of them, but not how much they are worth in gift certificates.

After this conversation with this woman I started to think about Christmases I’d celebrated with my friends and family before the whole thing became a commercial game of who can give the most. Three things stuck out in my memory…fruit cake, hard candy, and cherry cordials.

I know every single one of you have been the recipient of one of those hard as a rock, dry as sand fruit cakes at some point. I’ll bet even some of you are suspicious that the stupid thing was re-gifted from the previous Christmas. Just off the cuff here, they are safe to eat after that long, the alcohol they are soaked in preserves them and yes, they are edible for months and in some cases years. So, don’t worry, Aunt Sally isn’t trying to poison you–she’s trying to show you she remembered you. You see when I was a kid everyone got a stupid fruit cake. At that point, you’re six years old and while you wanted a Willy Wonka treat in your stocking, somehow a fruit cake made its way in there. Back then I thought fruit cake was the most horrific thing on the planet. It was like packed sawdust and too spicy for my underdeveloped taste. There will be more on fruit cakes in a minute…

Old fashioned hard candy. And your grandma always got the spice variety didn’t she? Did you find yourself picking out the raspberry filled ones because that was the only one you could stomach? Me, too! As I grew older my palate became more sophisticated and I found I was particularly fond of cloves. I still love cloves. I like the way it tastes and smells. In fact, if they made cloves potpourri I’d probably keep it out year round to stir that quiet place inside me when I need to feel grounded. (You’ll find one of the characters in an upcoming book of mine wears a clove scented cologne.)

Did anyone’s grandma keep a baggy of those dreadful candies in their enormous purses after the holidays because they had about a dozen tins of it from the neighbors? You’d be in church and cough, and she’d drag out some God awful flavor and stuff it between your lips to get your cough under control. Gads! It was usually half-melted and sticky…yick! Now? I miss my grandma and her bag full of sticky hard candy. No one gifts it anymore because it’s looked upon as cheap and a last-minute-had-to gift now.

How about these little jewels? Cherry cordials. Lawd! If we’d had any sense when we were eight we’d have realized that aside from communion wine, these were the closest we’d come to booze before seeing the teen years when it was possible to acquire it by less than legal means. I’m laughing at the memory of what these chocolaty treats looked like after being wrapped up under the tree for weeks. The chocolate was usually destroyed, crushed from the box being shaken a thousand times as we tried to figure out what it was inside that shiny paper, when, in fact, we were well aware by the shape of the package and the gift giver’s name on the tag that it was a box of cherry cordials. By the time we opened them the white goo was oozing out and the cherries were stuck to the brown plastic container tray. We thought they were disgusting then…now I think they are a delightful little treat and now realize I was under-appreciative of the marriage between cherries and chocolates.

Times were much easier then. People gave what they could. Nothing was put on credit cards and if a dollar was all someone had they spent it all and gave until it hurt, even if all it afforded was a fruit cake, a tin of hard candy, or a box of cherry cordials. No one was trying purposely to be tacky, they were trying to show they cared and the receivers of these gifts were thought about and loved. And although we kids would rather have had toys and money, we ate these horrific goodies because we wanted to show we cared back. I for one didn’t appreciate these treats the way I do now and I feel like we should revisit them and examine why we were given them and what they meant. Simply love…nothing more, nothing less…

I miss the days of fruit cake, hard candy and cherry cordials…

Now, as promised, back to the fruit cake issue. I know many of you probably wail and rail against fruit cake as though it were the worst thing to consume on the planet…I must confess, I am a lover of this sweet treat. Some years back I discovered Assumption Abbey Bakery. The Trappist monks diligently churn out tons of these little dandies each year, and you can order them for any occasion, not just Christmas. If ever you doubted the validity of the fruit cake, one of theirs will sway you and make a believer out of you. They. Are. Heavenly. Delicious! Theirs are enough to wipe out the fruit cake stigma and start a revolution. They are fresh, moist, filled with yummy fruit and nuts, and soaked in some tasty spirits. You can visit them here:  Don’t knock it till ya try it, my sugars!

I bid you all festive, fruitful, and fun holidays.


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