This is a continuation of our blog that has excerpted some Christmas memories from Robert Ruark’s classic book The Old Man and the Boy…
Women are generally a bother to a boy and a man but around the holiday season they sure earned their keep. Ms. Lottie, my grandma, was a fair hand with stove. In between the smell of what she was cooking, the smell of evergreens, in the smell of strange specialties that you never saw any other time of the year, the house literally trembled with odor.
Ms. Lottie would have a couple of big fruitcakes underway since about September. These were cakes as big as mill wheels and full of dark green citron, and fat raisins, and candied cherries, and juicy carrots, and soaked in enough brandy to get you giddy off a slice of it.
For the holidays you had oranges, which never appeared any other time, and whose oily hides added an extra pungency to the society of odors. You had the big purplish grapes and fist size clusters of plump wrinkle raisins, sticky and sugar sweet and as big as taw marbles. The old man used to pour little extra brandy over the raisins and then set them alight. It was a great game to see who could dart a hand in and come out, unsinged, with a decent clump.
During this time all the dishes were filled with nuts. There were plates of English walnuts, shelled pecans, and white Brazil nuts flanking plates full of store-bought candies the little clover shape leaf shaped mints and various bright colors and stripy hard candies.
You know I can’t get through the holiday season without devoting some tender thought to the big old sweet cured Country ham—that was a pig that needed no apple in its mouth. And on Christmas the smell of this ham and other stuff mixed with the wild turkeys. All this was cooking slowly being basted by old Galena, the cook. There were saddles of venison that someone was dripping wine and jelly onto, and the wild ducks taking it easy and the bake pan absorbing the extra flavor of carrots and onions and slices of apple. Perhaps they would be quail frying for the breakfast meal just to help the ham along.
Then there was a special dessert that I remember the old man calls raisin duff. It was an old English’s seagoing dish served with a hard sauce that had enough brandy in it to arouse the adverse attention of the Anti-Saloon league. You ate it all and then came back for more. The butter soggy hot biscuits were endless, the pickled artichokes and watermelon preserves were only the condiments. You drag yourself up from the table by main force, but still had enough foresight to grab a handful of raisins and a pocket full of candy in case you gotta might peckish during the night. Why I didn’t founder myself I would never, never know…
(To be Continued…)