The lessons of love from a fruit cake

Published 4:14 pm Monday, December 11, 2023

One of my favorite parts of the Christmas season is the gift of a homemade fruit cake from Milton’s cousin, Emma Gerald.  Emma makes the most beautiful and best fruit cake I have ever eaten. I have been a fruit cake lover from the age of five when I tasted my first one that was home made.  The fruitcake Emma makes me every year is a treasure indeed. It serves as a token of her love, caring and kindness that went into making it and her joy of giving it to me.

When I was five, my grandmother’s best friend brought her a homemade fruitcake while I was sitting in the swing on our front porch, helping my grandmother shell pecans. I listened to them talking about the ‘good old days’ when they were children at Christmas time. My grandmother gave me a little piece of the fruitcake and she talked about all the time, expense and care that her friend went through to make the cake.

While I enjoyed the cake, they talked about their homemade toys and treats they received at Christmas and how much they enjoyed them.  They also shared about how lovingly made cakes and pies were their best Christmas gifts. My grandmother shared how things like sugar, vanilla, flour and butter were precious items in her household and were hard to come by during World War 1 because food commodities were rationed. So, to be able to make cakes, pies, cookies and other treats weren’t always something that could be done. She said you had to save your ration coupons to be able to get the ingredients to make a cake or some other treat.  That made your gift of a cake or pie even more precious, because you had to sacrifice something to give it.

My grandmother’s talked about how their elders saved different kinds of berries, nuts, candied orange peel and dried fruit all year to be able to make a fruit cake for their families. it was often the best gift they had to give, and it was made with love, caring and sacrifice as the main ingredients. The fruitcake was called ‘jewelry cake’ as the candied and dried fruit on top resembled gems.  The history of fruitcake is a long and interesting one, and even President George Washington’s wife Martha, had an enslaved woman Hannah Till make fruit cake for her.

The Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum participated in the Arts of the Pamlico’s Home and Heritage Tour this year. As part of our presentation ‘Christmas on the Underground Railroad’ we shared the story of ‘jewelry cake’ and shared samples of it. And the lesson about the cake was the love behind it.

The Pillsbury Corporation has a very successful advertising campaign that has the slogan “nothing says loving like something from the oven.”  I would like to say, “nothing says loving like something from a beautiful, loving heart.”

This Christmas and hopefully all through the next year, may our gifts be filled with the labors of our love, caring and kindness. These gifts cost nothing to give but can impact the lives of those on the receiving end forever. And will make precious memories in the hearts receiving them.

Matthew 6:33

Leesa Jones is a Washington native and the cu-curator of the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum.