by Tim Duffy
When you make the fruitcake there are some rules:
You will want to picture it covered in apricot jam, nuts, the fingerprints of lovers, but that is to get ahead of yourself. To put the cake before the batter, as it were.
First, soak the raisins, currants, and candied peel in the cheapest brandy you can buy in the largest bottle you can find. Overnight. Make eye contact with the liquor store cashier. You want your eyes to say: “I am going to drink all of this this with eggnog in the shower.” You cannot drink it all with eggnog in the shower. The cakes need all the brandy. You need nothing, or, rather, you need too many things, but the cakes can’t give you that. It’s not their fault. You are soaking the raisins, currants, and candy peel so they become moist and separate and booze-filled. You want each piece of fruit to stand alone. You, too, are often alone and booze-filled but that’s beside the point. Really, the cake doesn’t care. It just wants to get made.
Second, the next day, check on the fruit. Smell it with a kind of panicked longing. Nothing bad has happened in the last twelve hours (unless it has). The fruit is still there (unless it’s not). The booze has pooled in the bottom of the bowl and inside the various pieces of fruit. Let the smell linger in your nose for a bit until it fogs your mind, just enough to make you forget an unpleasant memory from the seventh grade. If someone involved in that unpleasant memory has since died of an opioid overdose or freak accident, exhale deeply into the fruit. It’s ok. The fruit won’t tell anyone.
Have you left the butter to soften? You probably haven’t. Just leave it out or microwave it briefly and deal with the sticks melting at the edges. You’ll have to cream the butter together with the brown sugar using a wooden paddle. You can enjoy the feeling of your biceps and forearms flexing as you do this and think how pathetic it is to eroticize baking. Finish the creaming in internal silence. You have done enough thinking so far.
You are now to heat molasses with cocoa, mace, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. You are to think about colonialism and the way these flavors, so associated with the New England of your birth, are in fact drenched in blood and the destruction of native peoples and cultures. You’ll think of how Saint Hildegard von Bingen ate nutmeg to bring on spiritual visions and you will see how a pale European, used to swede and celeriac, could go mad for such a smell. This is a shameful but enlightening revelation. Leave to cool for 15 minutes, combine with butter and sugar mixture. Then combine that mixture with the soaked fruit, peel, and 1 1/3 pounds of chopped nuts. You will include cashews if you have budgeted properly, otherwise you will fill it with walnuts and many will know the difference.
Crack sixteen eggs into a large mixing bowl. Imagine that each egg is a planet in its own firmament of albumen. Then with a whisk, be the destroyer of worlds and holy eschaton you dream of being. Beat slightly.
You’ll need seven cups of flour mixed with two teaspoons of baking powder. You know that a mixture this heavy will destroy any powder’s attempt to make it rise but it will try just the same. If it has learned to accept failure, why can’t you? Even though the baking powder has a more developed sense of purpose than you do. Is that really fair? After all, you tried filling out an application to graduate school once and you seriously considered applying to that internship your aunt told you about. She’s going to love this cake, even if it’s not very airy on the inside.
In alternating rhythms add the eggs and flour mixture to the fruit nut and sugar mixture until you have created a vat of batter. Corner pockets of flour are inevitable. Take two wooden spoons and fold them through the mixture constantly until your arms burn. Enjoy the pump in your forearms as you lay the spoons down and stare into the dark brown, fruity mixture you have created. Divide into ten loaf pans and bake at 275 for roughly three hours. You will know the cakes are done because you will have woken up in a panicked sweat from your nap sure you’ve burned the cakes.
Let them cool for a half hour in their pan before cooling completely on a rack after brushing them with brandy. Pour some brandy on your skin and enjoy the shock of evaporation. Wrap them in brandy-soaked cheesecloth like a shroud. Think of how there’s a good chance one of these cakes will outlive you. Will last almost indefinitely if stored properly in a cool dark place, certainly at least ten years longer than whoever made it. Serve with strained apricot jam and chopped nuts on top. As you cut with a serrated knife look into the eyes of your friends and family to let them know that even if they’ve never eaten a piece of goddamned fruitcake in their entire life or even if, in fact especially if, they know they don’t like fruitcake, they will accept a slice of your well-preserved sugar-laden boozy love.
Makes 10 cakes, each serving 4-15, depending on how much they love you.
Tim Duffy is a poet and writer in Connecticut. His poems and critical writing have appeared in Entropy, Open Letters Monthly, The Cortland Review, and Bop Dead City. He is at work on a collection of poems, "Old Faith, New Wounds" and a novel "Permission to Proceed"