‘Oh, my Buddy, it’s fruitcake weather’

Published 3:00 am Saturday, December 13, 2014

Tipsy cake is a favorite “cake” in the town of Lynchburg, Tennessee, home of the Jack Daniel’s Distillery. Lynchburg is the seat of Moore County, ironically a dry county, even though there’s enough whiskey made in that county to power a rocket to Jupiter and back.

The remembrance of nibbling on tipsy cake in Lynchburg got all tangled up with my recent reading of Truman Capote’s “Christmas Memories.”

A line from Capote’s novel, “Oh, my Buddy, it’s fruitcake weather,” brought back memories of a little bird-legged, frizzy-headed, 10-year-old girl that got tipsy on Christmas cake.

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My grandmother would always come to our house a few days before Christmas bringing all kinds of good things to eat. We could hardly wait for her to unveil them all.

My grandmother’s fruitcake was made with dates, figs, raisins and peaches that Aunt Mamie Bell had dried on the tin roof of the barn during the hot summer. She put cheesecloth over the peaches to keep the flies and other bugs away.

But she had to holler to keep us away from the warm, sweet peaches.

“You young’uns get away from my peaches,” Aunt Mamie Bell would holler out the back door and we’d jump down and run like scared rabbits.

Mama said she didn’t know of anybody that put peaches in a fruitcake except my grandmother.

“They’re fruits, ain’t they?” Aunt Mamie Bell would laugh and say.

So, my eyes grew wide in anticipation of my grandmother’s Christmas fruitcake. Teacakes came next, then peanut butter fudge, sand tarts, divinity with and without pecans, snicker doodles and Martha Washington balls that I did not like.

But, when my grandmother, opened the lid on the Lane Cake, everybody caught their collective breath. If we hadn’t, the fumes probably would have knocked us all out.

“Hell, Minnie,” Daddy would say. “This cake’s so strong it could walk off the table.”

Well, if it had walked off the table, Daddy would have been chasing right in behind it.

He would get a big slice of the Lane Cake and another little piece until Mama would say he’d had enough.

My grandmother kept her Lane Cake moist with a good dousing of Barbour County moonshine that Uncle Earl kept hidden in the back of his store. Baptist vanilla, he called it.

Lane Cake was the first dessert that we ran out of every Christmas.

Back then, it was the custom for everybody to gift everybody else with home baked goodies.

My family owned a feed mill and Mrs. Barker was the bookkeeper. She made all kinds of Christmas cakes, candies and cookies.

One Christmas was unusually warm and I had ridden my bicycle to the mill and Mrs. Barker gave me a Christmas surprise box filled with all kinds of goodies to take home. Mama was in the yard picking up pecans and I couldn’t wait to see what all Mrs. Barker had packed for us, so I opened the box.

Divinity, fudge, egg white cookies and some little round balls that looked like fruit cake and smelled a like Lane Cake. They were real moist and good. I helped myself.

When dark brought Mama in the back door, there were two of her. And, the room was kind of spinning around her.

“I think I’m sick or something,” I told Mama. “I don’t feel so good.”

“What did you eat? You ate these … rum balls? Lordy mercy!” Mama said.

She gave me a biscuit and some buttermilk to chase down the rum balls and sent me to bed. When Daddy came home, I heard Mama telling him I’d gotten tipsy on Mrs. Barker’s rum balls.

Daddy didn’t care I was in bed drunk. All he cared about was whether I’d eaten all the rum balls.

After that, for me, Christmas time is just fruitcake weather.