Famous or infamous, fruitcakes part of some holiday traditions

Published 6:00 am Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Whether they enjoy them or not, everyone seems to have a story -or at least a joke – about Christmas fruitcakes.

Wesson’s Lou Byrd said she wasn’t even really that interested inmaking fruitcakes for a long time, as her mother-in-law was thefruitcake gourmet in the family. Byrd said her husband Malford’smother made the fruitcakes around November of each year.

When she passed away, there were some big shoes to fill.

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“Consequently he said, ‘Lou, you will be making fruitcake now,'”she said with a laugh, adding, “But he didn’t have a recipe.”

So it became a trial and error process, with Lou trying recipesand Malford critiquing the efforts as possible replicas of hismother’s recipe.

“We went through all these books and found one that he tastedand said, ‘That’s just like Mom’s,'” she said. “I don’t think wereally had all that many disasters.”

Lou Byrd said her youngest brother makes it a point each year toask her if she’s going to make him a fruitcake. But part of thetradition is that she shoots him down.

“He would say, ‘When am I going to get my fruitcake,’ and I’dsay, ‘When you buy the ingredients,'” she said. “One year he said,’I’m going to buy them this year.'”

So, $32 later, Byrd said her brother had learned that fruitcakeis not just a gift and an art, it’s an investment.

And Malford Byrd saves the fruitcake until his son Mike can getthere. So in the meantime, they also make fruitcake cookies.

Meanwhile, the legendary fruitcake has also gained fame beyondthe family. Blythe Jinks Reid said she remembers the holiday treatfrom when she dated their grandson, Timothy Byrd.

“Besides the amazing taste, knowing there truly is love in everybite,” she said. “Mawmaw Byrd truly loves the people she bakes forand her compassion for others is truly in the recipe, which makesher fruitcake the best.”

Lou Byrd said that she loves to make the fruitcakes for thoseshe loves, but that there’s “tough love” in the fruitcakes as well.The fruitcake recipe isn’t going to pass itself down, afterall.

“I make half a fruitcake for Michael,” she said with a laugh. “Ithink his wife needs to learn how to make the fruitcakes.”

But everyone is not as versed in the fruitcake arts as Byrd.Shelly Jenkins stood with a blank look on her face as she perusedthe ingredients at a local retailer.

“I thought I’d try to make one myself this year, instead ofgetting the one that comes from the bakery,” she said. “But I can’treally figure out why anyone would want to put those green cherriesin it. Those ARE cherries, right?”

And Doretha Washington of Franklin County said she and hersister Sharmane actually passed the cliché fruitcake back and forthfor a time. While it wasn’t year-to-year, the fruitcake did makethe rounds several times.

“It was like a joke,” she said. “It was almost like acompetition. I’d come in and it would be sitting on my kitchentable, so I’d lock my door and leave it on her nightstand. Then I’dfind it in my mailbox.”

But that was years ago, she said. There hasn’t been another”fruitcake war” in quite some time.

“Maybe that’s what she needs for Christmas this year,”Washington said with a laugh.