Marie Bowers started helping her grandmother and aunt make fruitcake when she was six years old. Now 70, she still makes one every year, and considers it one of the best things about Christmas.
“That means as much as presents in my book,” she said. “I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything. It’s such a feeling of satisfaction when you smell it and look at it, and think about the nostalgia of being with your family making it.”
Making a fruitcake takes a lot longer than other holiday desserts. Bowers started the process in November, buying the candied fruits and nuts at Yoders Country Market in Madison County and chopping them up.
It takes about a day for her to prepare the ingredients and a second day for baking. After the fruitcake comes out of the oven and her husband helps her flip its weight out of the pan, she pours bourbon or brandy over it. Then Bowers lets the cake sit for a month to allow time for it to be infused with the liquor.
Bowers’ mother, Gladys Perkins, inherited the family fruitcake-making tradition, and Bowers helped her. When Bowers was older, she became the keeper of the family recipe.
As Christmas would approach, Bowers’ father, Robert “Perk” Perkins, the longtime chief of Louisa Volunteer Fire Department, would begin to “worry” her about when she would cut the fruitcake. She always replied that it couldn’t be done until the end of the Christmas meal.
Not everyone in her family wants to sample the fruitcake, which Bowers admits is something “you either love or you hate.” She always has other homemade cake and pies on the table so there’s something for everyone. She even prepares fruitcake cookies, made with a different recipe.
While some of her guests around the Christmas table enjoy having a slice of fruitcake when it’s new, if she keeps it in a closed container in the garage it will still be tasty as dessert as late as next spring.
“Mom always felt like it wouldn’t be Christmas without a fruitcake. I guess it was because there was so much work put into it,” Bowers said.
“As long as I’m able to make it, I’m going to.”