We're home again after a 3-day trip to Virginia for an annual ritual: the Sisters' Fruitcake Bake and Gift Exchange. We started this the year our father died, in 2006 and have continued each year since then. Each year we meet at a different house--last year, we were at my son Jon's home in Leesburg (and that was the last time I actually saw my son, so how fortunate that we made the cakes there. Otherwise my last visit with him would have been Thanksgiving).
This year the sisters, all eight of us, met at sister Cathy's house, which used to be our parents' home. It seemed fitting that we should be there, in Mom's old kitchen that has become Cathy's warm space. Cathy and her husband are slowly remodeling the house, one project at a time. The kitchen is in line for updates too.
We're getting better at this. We started work promptly at 10:00 am as scheduled, and the last batch was in the oven before 3:00pm. It was crowded but that did not slow us down.
We make a LOT of cakes, so this is no small feat. Not all the sisters make or even like fruitcake, so some just help and visit. I think we ended up with 40-45 cakes this year--these are the small loaf pans, not the big ones!
The reason for the annual get-together goes back to our childhood. Our mother called the day after Thanksgiving "stir-up day," referring to her English custom of making fruitcakes and plum puddings on this day. These were soaked in brandy and stored in a dark, cool place until the holiday feasts. We helped as children, always stirring the fruitcake mix three times and making a wish. As we grew to adulthood, the custom continued although not all of us participated. I usually did not, simply because of distance and family commitments of my own. But after Mom passed away, the ritual became a healing process and then a time that we could schedule to be together each year. It's important to all of us now, and I would not want to miss it.
Another part of the tradition is bringing in the younger females in the family. The first year it was just the sisters, but now each year more and more female relatives join us for at least part of the day and the younger generation is learning the "secret" recipe. (The secret--not following the recipe).
An odd thing happened the first year we got together. Many of us brought a small gift for each sister, completely unplanned. The next year, everyone brought gifts. These are usually nothing big or expensive, and there are some funny unspoken rules: homemade is awesome, thrift or yard sale finds are especially welcome, and if it's something new form the store--well, that's fine too because a sister chose it! I've received gifts wrapped in vintage linens, gifts in jars, gifts in baskets, and even some very carefully wrapped and decorated. Each finds a special place in my home, and each brings a smile whenever I see or use it.
I feel blessed to have sisters who know me so well that even though we don't see each other often, they know my likes and select so well. I'll post photos of this year's gifts tomorrow. At the end of the day, we took a quick walk up the street to a thrift shop and had a blast browsing the offerings. Another thing we have in common--we all love antique and junk shops.
Now it's time to finish up some laundry and go to bed. Another blessing of travel: the luxury of your own bed and pillows when you return home.