It started after dinner. I would fling open the hinged pantry doors and scan the wooden shelves for a good choice. Brownies? Jell-O? Something boxed would catch my elementary-schooler eyes. I can’t remember ever being told no when I hollered to my parents in the living room, “Can I make this?”
I’m the kid who watched PBS cooking shows and enjoyed them. I’m the kid using the age-appropriate recipe book with primary colored measuring spoons attached. Red and white check reminds me of the Better Homes & Gardens binder cookbook. All of those evenings at the counter taught me it’s fun to create something and share it with others.
I’m not the only one in my family who bakes. Once the calendar flips to December friends joke with Mom. Smoothly at first like melting chocolate over a simmering pot of water. Closer to Christmas, hints drop with desperate urgency like generous scoops of cookie dough an hour before a party. I’m a bit more adventurous in the oven, she sticks to the basics. But everyone who encounters Mom’s year-end treat tends to remember it.
In some families heirlooms are jewelry, property, bank accounts. Perhaps mementos from special trips or family albums. These things hold great meaning. In the future I’ll be inheriting a recipe.
I’m sure you’ve all tried things like Christmas cookies, eggnog, and peppermints. Roasted chestnuts. Fudge. People–especially Americans–love sweets. What, you may be asking, is this legacy baked good? It’s the humble rum cake.
A small, golden loaf of joy. A simple cake glazed in warm wishes. An old-fashioned dessert to celebrate the jolly holidays. Moist bites of did-all-of-the-alcohol-cook-off will hit your tongue and you will not care.
Mom whips up modest loaves in batches. It’s a process. For years she let me watch and help. I would scrub the silver pans soaking in a sink full of soapy water and return them to duty. Meanwhile, the culinary logistics proceeded around me. After the hum of the electric mixer, a fluffy batch of yellow batter awaited in a large bowl next to cartons of eggs and bottles of rum. In the heated oven, aluminum pans baked heavenly fragrant contents. A row of glazed wonders rested on the stove top, setting into final glory. The Sugar Rum Fairy efficiently produced dozens of them.
Mom sealed the finished buttery cakes in plastic wrap—sometimes red or green—and tied it off with ribbon if she felt fancy. My parents took them to parties and cut rum cake is served on Christmas. Mom sent my sister and I to deliver the goodies to neighbors on foot or bicycle. Holding a fresh rum cake is the proper way to ring a doorbell. Everyone always answers.
People compliment Mom. They tell her how the seasonal treat is anticipated. Humans with extreme willpower chisel away small slices and make it last. Most people dig right in, some with a fork and knife, others in hand like a Honeycrisp apple. People confess: rum cakes are hidden from spouses, rum cakes are dinner. It’s the most wonderful time of the year.
Every December, Mon shows family and friends love and kindness with these thick, sticky parcels. She’s a giver. Her rum cake reflects her: warm, sweet, and festive. They’re a fun tradition I’ll carry on, and a good way for a daughter to act like her mother.
Do you cook something special this time of year? What recipes have been passed down in your family? What is your favorite holiday food? Tell me about it.