Time for Pan de Pascua, fruitcake. In Chile, it’s ubiquitous, piled high in every grocery.
Far as I know, none of my friends in the US like fruitcake. Vivi, my Spanish teacher seemed offended when I told her that we don’t eat much fruitcake, but I’ve never been offered nor served fruitcake at any party or celebration in the US.
Except when I was a child. Back then, it was a different story.
Every year, my mother made a fruitcake from scratch with artificially colored pieces of pineapple and cherries and pounds of nuts, all held together with eggs and flour.
After baking, she faithfully covered it with cheesecloth and doused it daily with cooking sherry to keep it moist. Living in the Bible Belt, Christmas was the only time of the year when liquor was present in our house.
It made a pretty cake. Though nobody in my family ever wanted to eat it, my mother insisted that we have one “in case visitors dropped by.” Apparently, visitors expect to be served fruitcake at Christmas.
Maybe that’s true in Chile. There are giant mounds of it everywhere. Somebody must be eating all that fruitcake. I’d always been tempted to buy one just to check it out.
One year, in a little passage in downtown Santiago, there was a woman selling slices of fruitcake. She was an elderly lady, murmuring, “Pan de Pascua, rico Pan de Pascua,” as she pulled a little wheeled basket behind her.
I decided to give it a go. So I stopped her to ask, “How much does it cost?” 300 pesos, about 60 cents, per slice or two for 500 pesos.
“Did you make it yourself?” I asked her.
She assured me, “¡Sí, sí! Hecho a mano.”
I paid my pesos and got my trial slice. It was dry, much drier than my mother’s, the sherry-slinger. It had less fruit and fewer nuts, too, and a vaguely licorice-y taste.
Was it awful? No. Would I buy it again? No.
When I saw the Pan de Pascua at my favorite chocolate shop, I was tempted again. The saleslady assured me that it wasn’t dry. I poked at its packaging with one finger. Since it wasn’t hard as a rock, I bought it.
It looked pretty. Round with almonds and raisins scattered on top. But when Vivi came for my Spanish lesson and we cut into it, I discovered that it was the same as the former one. Dry and mostly tasteless except for the sugary-sweet fruit bits. I picked at my piece, but Vivi seemed to like it. She even had a second slice.
I should have learned my lesson by now, but how can it be that fruit and nuts turn into something inedible? When I saw the bag of candied fruit at the tostaduría, I was almost tempted to try to make one myself.
I found a recipe that sounded good. A recipe that called for more fruit and nuts than flour and sugar. The problem? I would have needed to have made it about three months ago because the recipe called for dousing the thing in rum for ten weeks before eating. I’m about nine weeks too late.
I have not one Christmas ball, bauble, bangle. Nor fruitcake. My mother would be scandalized, but if I get any Christmas visitors, they’ll have to settle for something else…like chocolate.