Comfort foods. We all have them. One taste and nerves are calmed. Brings you to a higher place. Makes you feel good regardless of whatever else is happening in your life.
That’s what Nonna’s Christmas cake is like for me. There are two types of people in the world. Those who love fruit cake and those who detest it. And, I’m willing to bet those in the latter group would love Nonna’s Italian Christmas cake. It’s a very light fruit cake and one of the two secret ingredients is coconut.
When Mom married Dad, they first lived with my Dad’s parents, my Italian Nonna and Nonno. That’s the way it was back then. My Mom is a smart person. She learned how to bake Nonna’s Italian Christmas cake. It was a lot of work at that time. No mixers- everything done by hand. Pretty labour intensive.
For 67 years now, Mom has carried on the tradition of baking that recipe. In 2015, Dad helped her with the measuring as Mom’s eyesight isn’t as it used to be. Or else Dad helped with the mixing. I’m not sure. Either way, it was a team effort.
Dad passed away around Thanksgiving. My brother, Marty insisted on putting up Mom’s Christmas lights and making sure Christmas was celebrated in spite of a time of grieving. I found out later Marty never got around to putting up his own lights. Life is busy. I bought a real Christmas tree but never put it up, either. When you’re a nurse, the holidays are a blur, with trying to work and still partake in family gatherings. This year I was very unorganized.
But, I helped Mom to have some Christmas spirit too. My sister from Edmonton, Lisa thought Mom should have a real evergreen wreath for her front door. I searched for one almost too late. I couldn’t find a wreath anywhere. Finally, I returned to the lot where I had purchased my Christmas tree. Two wreaths remained. One was too small; the other plus-size. I felt like Goldilocks. I bought the large wreath and it looked absolutely perfect on her front door.
In early December, Mom had asked me to bring her to Bulk Barn. She wanted to buy fruitcake ingredients like citron peel, pineapple glaze, maraschino cherries, golden raisins and coconut. It had to be golden raisins. Not like traditional fruit cakes with the darker raisins. There’s actually 2 ½ cups of coconut in the recipe. Anything with coconut is good in my book.
Christmas came and went. I didn’t receive any fruit cake. I thought maybe it didn’t turn out. There’s an art to baking. It’s not like cooking where you don’t require exact measurements. A dash of this spice, a pinch of another. No, you have to focus pretty closely on what you’re doing or the results will be a disappointment.
Well, this week, my Mom gave me some Christmas cake to take home. Maybe it has to “cure” or something. I’m really not sure. I know Mom had baked it before Christmas.
On the car ride home, I told myself I’d have some before my night shift. That I would go home to eat supper, take a nap before work and have a slice then.
That cake didn’t stand a chance. We’re talking good old fashioned comfort food. With coconut to boot! I helped myself to a little slice before supper as did my youngest daughter and husband. And then, a little slice after supper. Just to even out the edges of it. Of course, I still had a slice before work.
It was perfect. Brought me back to my childhood. Christmas gatherings with my cousins, the large Christner family. Reminded me of being doled out parcels of Christmas cake by Mom when I lived in residence at the university. And, it triggered memories of being handed Christmas cake on my way out the door from Mom and Dad’s place when I was a newlywed. With neither cooking nor baking skills.
I’ll let you in on the second secret ingredient. It’s love. Love of a Mom carrying on a tradition. In spite of grief. Doing for others as she’s done all her life. If ever I needed Christmas cake, this had to be the year. Thanks, Mom. You’re the best! You knew just what I needed. And, I think there’s a wee bit more Christmas cake on the kitchen table that’s calling my name right now.