Home for the Holidays in Austria
Now that my father has passed, I have to dig a little deeper for fans of our family fruitcake, he and I loved it the best. I suppose it’s almost time to Kick the Fruitcake!
Every year I’d make him a couple of large ones for Christmas, heavy with rum and studded with all manner of fruits and nuts
I think this family tradition all started with my Great Aunt Marie, who was Austrian and a fantastic baker. She was a sister of my Grand dad’s on my father’s side and, boy, did they love good food!
Dad used to tell us stories of living as a boy in Europe. He loved the sour cherry pies, and farm fresh food, the big vegetable garden at the house where he grew up. This house was in a village near the edge of a forest in Austria. He loved to tell of the mornings he got lucky and was able to hop on the back rail of a horse drawn sleigh, bells jingling, to get him to school on time. He was perennially late and that never changed. But he was never later to dinner.
Both his Mother and Aunt were terrific cooks and bakers. Often Aunt Marie would bake well ahead for the holidays and bury her fruitcakes in powdered sugar until the proper day arrived. They do keep very well, being well imbibed with spirits and stay surprisingly moist for a long period of time. They were savored judiciously due to their richness. She also made a special pepper cookie called Pfeffernuise, literally “pepper nuts” which us kids loved to dunk when she made them for us a generation later. Hard as rocks, but full of flavor!
My Dad’s Mom,who loved to visit me in Maine, used to describe my 1970’s lifestyle as similar to the way they lived back then. She described Christmas in Austria with a deep dark forest, hooting owls in snowy fir trees, the sound of snow sliding of their peaked metal roof and chickens to feed. The prized Christmas goose for the table was her domain. Her job was to catch and kill it and prepare it for roasting. She made her own feather beds.
The picture I still have in my mind is chalet-like, one of extreme coziness: prosperity, honest work, a full larder and a beloved dog by a roaring fire.
My father kept the memories of these women and this life alive and passed them on to me, which is why I’ll make fruitcake anyway this season…for remembrance.
Blessings and Peace