The apple doesn't fall far from the tree

R-L: Mom, Patty, Iris, Libby, Linda, Sonia, circa mid-1990's

 I celebrate Mom’s January birthday with one of her favorite sweets.

Her four younger brothers often decreed her apple pie undeniably the best of its kind. Especially served a la mode with her beautiful smile and cup of fresh-brewed coffee.

She once said in her seventies, “I’ve baked a mountain of pies in my life.”

In that report, my mother didn’t exaggerate. Furthermore, she never could countenance a slice of American cheese atop her apple pie. Me neither.

Come January 10, Sadie Lee McCoy’s birthdate, I’ve had enough Honey Crips and Jonathans. I prefer a slice of Mom’s fruitcake in honor of the hours she stood before the kitchen counter mixing eggs, butter, flour, and spices with pecans and candied cherries and pineapple. A generous woman, Mom baked multiple batches of this holiday treat for her brothers and children.  

Her recipe (which I gladly inherited) yields enough to fill one large tube, or three loaf pans. Mom chose a tube pan. Larger the cake, the better. While the inverted confection cooled atop a bottle, she soaked cheesecloth in Dad’s brandy in a bowl. Then wrapped the entire cooled cake with the flavored cheesecloth.

She sealed the finished product with aluminum foil, packaged and mailed what went south, “back home” to my uncles. The last huge round vanished somewhere within the house until Christmas Eve. I suspect Mom sneaked it into the basement’s spidery fruit cellar, safe from her girls’ sweet tooth.

After my sisters and I consumed the Christmas trees, wreaths, and snowmen cookies we’d decorated with Mom, her five-pound cake remained untouched, marinating to perfection.

At last, her masterpiece appeared Christmas Eve, slices arranged on a festive platter. Piece by piece, we enjoyed Mom’s fruitcake to the last serving.  

Now in my seventies, I cannot say I’ve baked even a hill of apple pies. Perhaps I came close with hundreds of batches of currant lemon lavender and mocha chocolate pecan scones for the ten years I served teas to farm guests.

Yet, that short season pales to the lifetime my mother baked for her siblings, husband, five children, five sons-in-law, and fifteen grandchildren. Add the years she cooked for Van Dyke Public Schools and later baked and decorated wedding cakes for customers, I imagine a mountain of pastries isn’t far from the truth. 

This past Tuesday, on my mother’s 101st birthday, I removed my one loaf of fruitcake from its hiding place. The other two loafs left the house Christmas Day as gifts to my daughters. They love their Nana’s fruitcake.

I unwrapped the cheese cloth and sliced a larger than usual piece, and cut it in half. “Happy birthday, Mom,” I said and plated my portion. The other half I shared with my husband.

Dear Reader, one pound and eight ounces of fruitcake remain hidden for me to savor whenever I please. Meanwhile, I’m thinking Mom’s fried apples and biscuits with my hens’ fresh eggs will make a fine, winter breakfast.

As she said, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.