Now that it's respectable to like the Russians, you'd think that we could settle into a nice peace and goodwill season. Instead, there's another hate movement going on, right at the time of year when all should be sweetness and light.
Call it Fruitcake Phobia.
The perpetrators are not at all secret about their dislike, nor apologetic about hurting feelings, and they are indifferent to the cries of "prejudice." Indeed, they loudly proclaim near innocent dessert tables that they "hate fruitcake."
Now you never hear anyone talking that way about chocolate cake, a really sickening gooey mess that leaves your dress marked with incriminating fingerprints. And consider the cholesterol difference between chocolate cake and fruitcake -- chocolate rots willpower.
It may well be that it's all Raisa Gorbachev's fault. Did she refuse to go to tea instead of coffee at Nancy Reagan's solely for fear of fruitcake? The White House admits that pastry chef Roland Mesnier made 250 3-pound fruitcakes, imbued with a case each of scotch, brandy, sherry and rum.
Possibly a communist plot to undermine America, but not a necessary one. Unfortunately, fruitcake frenzy is already rampant.
TheLibrary of Congress' new cookbook, "The True Essentials of a Feast," though filled with glorious illustrations from the library's collections, has not a single illustration of a fruitcake. Its recipes from the LC Cooking Club at least do include a delicious walnut fruitcake -- but the cook didn't dare to sign it.
Mary Lethbridge, who retired a few years back as Library of Congress information officer extraordinaire, has one of the world's great kitchens, designed by her husband, architect F. Donald Lethbridge, but she learned some time ago that none of their three daughters or their son wanted her to bake fruitcake in it.
"But you never know. We went to the Octagon the other night, and our son Chris, to my astonishment, ate two individual mincemeat pies," she says.
Lethbridge, an otherwise splendid woman, says, "When people give me a fruitcake as a gift, I put it aside for a food basket."
Rosemary Reed, owner of Toast & Strawberries, a fashion and fancies shop, admits she's fond of fruitcake, though "most of my friends keep saying they're going to make fruitcake and never get around to doing it."
Ruth Kainen even admits that she keeps a fruitcake (a gift from last Christmas) available at all times, frozen. "The great advantage of fruitcake is that it keeps forever," she says. Her annual surprise birthday parties for her husband, painter Joseph Kainen, are famous for food, some from her book, "America's Christmas Heritage." But she says the best dark fruitcakes aren't hers, but ones that come from Collin Street Bakery, located somewhere in Texas but available in all sorts of places. ("The first I time I tasted it was in Madrid," she says.)
Genevra Higginson, events director at the National Gallery of Art, is the wife of a diplomat, so it's hard to extract from her a straight-out statement against anything. But fruitcake was not served at a tea she put on recently in the West Building. She claimed that plum pudding (steamed, of course) was more appropriate to open the "English Drawings and Watercolors" exhibit, but reliable rumor has it that she actually prefers plum pudding. (Foreign service families often go native. And they acquire strange tastes from ordering from Fortnum and Mason in London. Higginson, however, denies un-American leanings, claiming she grew up in Cambridge, Mass., and still receives toothsome gifts from friends there, who have plum-pudding-making parties.)
For years I thought that only grandmothers baked fruitcakes. Mine used to take to her bed for a week before she went to the kitchen to start her cakes. No one had anything else to eat that week because she had all the tables covered. She made hers a year ahead, as all proper cooks did then. The pecans came from the trees in her yard. I ruined the skin on my fingers picking out the nuts.
She soaked the cakes in scuppernong wine. (She raised grapes for the sole purpose of having the wine to pour over the fruitcake. Valdosta, Ga., as I recall, was a dry county until the Air Force base came during World War II.) When the birds ate all the grapes, as they were wont to do, she'd ask one of her menfolk relatives to buy a bottle of bourbon, something that as a Methodist and a lady she was not prepared to do. She'd wrap the cakes in bits and pieces of old sheets, tuck them in round candy tins and put them away in the safe -- a cupboard with chicken wire doors for all food that didn't go into the icebox. Every month or so, she'd add more spirits.
Now that I think about it, my own mother was a member of that heinous society bent on eradicating the fruitcake from its natural environment of the United States Christmas party table. Perhaps because her mother was such a good cook, my mother scorned such women's work as not for the modern 1930s woman. She and her flapper friends opened cans and made Jell-O.
Mother never ate fruitcake, saying, if pressed, that "it's too rich" -- that being the sort of thing said by people as thin as she was. She preferred things that were "dainty" -- a corner of someone's slice of white fruitcake, a confection made only by and for Southern women.
When he received his annual Christmas present from my grandmother, my father, like the Southern man he was, politely said he was very fond of dark fruitcake. Perhaps he was -- being a preacher's son and a Sunday school teacher's husband, and fruitcake being the only kind of bourbon allowed.