It’s almost time. Time to get the candied fruit for the annual fruit cakes.
Today I can buy the fruit already cut up and ready to participate in the baking of one of my favorite cakes.
It could have been the cake itself or it could have been the bourbon she used to keep it moist. Once baked she would place it in a lard can, cover it with a sheer cloth similar to cheese cloth and then pour straight bourbon over the cloth. The cakes were “watered” several times before they would be cut.
Every time I think of fruit cakes I remember a story my dad would tell us, stopping every little bit to laugh. The three brothers, my dad, Bruce, and Burbridge and Frances Ratliff, were known throughout Bath County, but this incident was really meant to be a good thing.
My grandparents, Sam and Mollie Ratliff, and the two boys, Burbridge and Francis, had gone to Florida to run a hotel in Lake Worth.
My dad stayed on the family farm and since Christmas was approaching, he and my uncle decided to make a fruit cake like his mother made. The only hitch was they couldn’t find her recipe. Between the two of them they thought they could remember everything that was needed and away they went to Mount Sterling to buy the necessary ingredients.
Once their purchases were made they returned home ready for an evening of baking. The ingredients were mixed to the best of their memories and they soon saw that they had more mixture than would fit in the tube pan.
My dad, with tears running down his face, recalled how they used every pan they could find with sides on it. He told how they baked fruit cakes all night and well into the next day. He said they had enough fruit cakes to last until Easter.
Those of you lucky enough to know my dad, know that he enjoyed a good story and a good laugh. His philosophy was “You can always find something to laugh about if you try hard enough.” He always followed that belief and passed it on to us.
The only thing I regret is that we never recorded any of his stories. So if you are lucky enough to have a good storyteller in your family, record what they tell.
And today my family never shares a fruit cake unless we recall the night that Dad and Uncle Virgil decided to bake a fruit cake without a recipe and ended up making enough to feed Bath and Montgomery counties.
Another story he loved to tell was of the time he and his brothers decided to go sleighing down a large, rocky hill in Bath County. Try to imagine three young boys, a little bit of snow and no sled. So what did they do?
They borrowed their Mother’s zinc wash tub without her knowledge, carried it to the top of the hill and one brother got in for a ride to who knows where.
With no guiders on the big round tub, the oldest brother, Uncle Burbridge, got in and the other two gave him a shove. Down the hill he went, hitting numerous rocks jutting from the ground. As he hit a rock, sparks would fly from the bottom of the tub that was swirling around and around as it traveled down the hill at break-neck speed.
The two brothers at the top of the hill got scared and wondered how the third brother would stop. He did, when he crashed into a fence at the bottom of the hill. He survived and in later years he described his ride as similar to a Tilt-A-Whirl at a carnival. They had a really hard time explaining to their mother that her dented wash tub did double duty for sleigh riding. The three, who were not only brothers, but best friends and business partners throughout their lives, shared many laughs about their growing up years, when money was at a premium and you had to make do with what you had. And there were many stories told of their making do and each one of them brought a good laugh.