This was how the Magdalene must have felt, anointing the body with precious spices and elixirs, carefully wrapping it in clean linens before placing it in the cool dark place where it would wait—preserved and guarded—until its ultimate appointment with destiny.
As I watched my fruitcakes slowly cooling on their racks, the mythic significance suddenly hit me. Since the dawn of time, women’s hands had carefully wrapped such precious bodies—in some cases a dead loved one, in others a symbolic cake—the bearer of costly ingredients, memories and hopes for the future.
All such creations were intended to undergo a transformation. To wait until the moment when they would grace the center of the ceremonial table. I considered how many hearths, through how many centuries, had witnessed this preparation.
Mixing the ingredients of two bowls (there was just too much to manage in a single bowl) laden with chopped figs, raisins, dried cherries, almonds, pecans, walnuts, crystallized ginger, candied orange peel and copious quantities of spices—plus a half dozen eggs, flour, butter, molasses and brown sugar—was physically arduous. My hands, wrists and right shoulder ached all day.
But I managed to make it all work and filled 2 1/2 large loaf pans up to the top. (Yes, I DID cut and line the pans with parchment paper, as in days of old.) After 2+ hours the kitchen smelled like heaven and the loaves were done.
Then the fun began. A half bottle of Jim Beam was sacrificed just to douse each cake, and then again to douse the cheesecloth with which I wrapped each loaf. Then foil to wrap yet again, then insertion into the rectangular coffins with tight-fitting lids, where they wait in my dark pantry until their weekly anointing with more whisky….to be continued