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‘Tis the Season: Bake a Fruitcake

Marie Rudisill, also known as The Fruitcake Lady, got her nickname from writing about fruitcake.  Her book, Fruitcake: Memories of Truman Capote and Sook, preceded her appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.  In fact, it precipitated her appearance when she sent a copy to a producer of The Tonight Show with a letter chastising Leno for his fruitcake jokes.

Too pretty to unwrap. Photo by: Babe_kl

Q. What do you do with a Christmas fruitcake?  A. Try eating it! Hey! It’s one way to get rid of it!

Seriously, Marie’s book is a gem.  She reminisces about growing up in the Old South, family traditions, her nephew Truman Capote, and their cousin Sook Faulk, whom Capote memorialized in A Christmas Memory.

Marie also rhapsodizes about fruitcakes, describing them as a “wonderful concoction of walnuts, pecans, candied red and green cherries, pineapples, date, almonds, and such” and calling them “true ambrosia – the queen of cakes.”

And, of course, she includes over twenty recipes.  Can’t wait to get started?  Here’s one Martha Washington is said to have used.

Cream together a 1/2 pound butter and 1-1/2 pounds sugar.  Gradually add six beaten egg yolks until creamy; then dissolve a teaspoon of soda in one pint of sour cream and add, alternating with 1-1/2 pounds of flour.  Next, add the whites of the six eggs, beaten stiff.

For the final steps, add one pound of raisins, one pound of currants, a 1/2 pound citron dredged with a 1/4 pound of flour.  Add the juice of one lemon and the rind of two lemons, one grated nutmeg, and a sprinkling of mace.

Bake in a greased ten-inch tube pan for five hours at a slow, steady heat.  Cover with buttered paper while baking.

A fruitcake will make a nice addition to your Christmas table.  Or you can always pass it along to a neighbor or friend who’ll pass it along to a neighbor or friend who’ll pass it along to a neighbor or friend…

© 2011 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

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100 Years Ago in Pop Culture for the Highbrow, Middlebrow, and Lowbrow

California or bust! Photo from: California Historical Society, San Francisco, CA.

Halloween is in a few days, and everyone knows what that means.  We’ll soon be raking leaves, if we haven’t started already, eating too much on Thanksgiving, shoveling more snow, putting the Christmas decorations up, and ringing in the New Year.  Before 2011 slips away, it seems to be a good time to look back and reflect on “the more things change…”

Here is my top ten hit list of people, places, and pop culture from 1911 that continue to resonate today.

10.  The first Indianapolis 500-Mile Race was held. It became an annual event, except for America’s involvement during World Wars I and II.  Ray Harroun, the winner, averaged 74.602 miles per hour.  This year’s winner, Dan Wheldon, averaged 170.265 miles per hour.   He died several months later in a fiery fifteen-car pileup at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

9.  Can you name that tune?  Irving Berlin’s Alexander’s Ragtime Band, his first great success, was the most popular song of the year.   Let Me Call You Sweetheart and Down By the Old Mill Stream were runners-up.  Whose songs will we be singing in another one hundred years?

8.  And whose books will we be reading?  The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett and Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton were published, as were books by Frank L. Baum, Joseph Conrad, E.M. Forster, D.H. Lawrence, Beatrix Potter, Bram Stoker, and H.G. Wells.

7.  The New York Pubic Library opened.  More than one million books were set in place for the official dedication, and up to 50,000 visitors streamed through the building on opening day.  The library’s collections now total nearly 53 million items (books, videotapes, maps, etc.), surpassed only by the Library of Congress and the British Library.

6.  The silent French film The Hunchback of Notre Dame was released.  Charles Laughton starred as Quasimodo in the 1939 talkie.  Disney made an animated version in 1996.  The 1831 novel by Victor Hugo on which the story is based remains in print.

5.  After a hard-fought campaign women in California won the right to vote.  They soon began running for and being elected to public office and never stopped.   Senators Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi are from the great state.

4.  Ronald Reagan was born in Tampico, Illinois.  As Governor of California, he signed the Family Law Act, which took the blame game out of divorce proceedings.  As President, he advocated reducing tax rates to spur economic growth and reducing government spending, the hot button campaign issues of the moment.

3.  Marie Rudisill, also known as the Fruitcake Lady for her appearances on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, was born in Monroeville, Alabama.  Although passing away five years ago, she has her own Wikipedia page, 220 “likes” on Facebook (come on, people, we can do better than that!), and many, many YouTube clips.

2.  Others born in 1911 whose accomplishments we continue to admire include: Ginger Rogers, Roy Rogers, and Will Rogers, Jr., none of whom were related.  There’s also comedian Lucille Ball, actress Jean Harlow, novelist William Golding, playwright Tennessee Williams, librettist W. S. Gilbert, and baseball player Hank Greenberg.  Milton Bradley, creator of Life, reached the end of the game, as did toy retailer F.A.O. Schwarz.  Producer of sour mash Tennessee Whiskey Jack Daniel died of an infection, and newspaperman Joseph Pulitzer, who filled the pages of his papers with exposés and scandals, quietly succumbed on his yacht.

1.  Photoplay and Motion Picture Story, two of the first American fan magazines, began in response to the ever increasing interest in the private lives of celebrities.  Today celebrities take nude photos of themselves on their cell phones and tweet their fans.

Is there anything from a hundred years ago that you’d like to add?  Drop me a line.

© 2011 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

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Keep your head high and your skirt down.

– Good advice from Marie Rudisill, the Fruitcake Lady, especially if you’re not wearing underwear.

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The Fruitcake Lady Remembered

Jay Leno, Tom Cruise, Marie Rudisill, and Steve Ridgeway --- after taping The Tonight Show.

Marie Rudisill would have turned 100 years old this spring.

Marie is best remembered as “The Fruitcake Lady” on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, a gig that began in 2000 and lasted until her death six years later.  Known for her quick wit and sharp tongue, Marie won the adoration of the audience.

Her status as a pop culture phenomenon began when she instructed Jay and guest Mel Gibson on making a fruitcake.  What a mess the guys made, and how she scolded them, as only a little old lady can.  Tom Cruise was next up, followed by Cuba Gooding, Jr., and Hugh Grant.  The shtick was always the same.  And it was always very funny.

The segment “Ask the Fruitcake Lady” evolved from those appearances.  Asked for her advice, she responded with the first thought that came to mind.  If a young person wanted to talk about sex, hoping to catch her off guard, she dealt with it.  Being old didn’t mean she didn’t remember what went where.  An elderly gentleman proposing marriage didn’t throw her off track either.  “I’m not getting married at my age,” she answered, “And I’m certainly not going to be taking care of any old man!”

Marie had the perspective of times past.  She was Southern to the core, only two generations removed from the Civil War, yet she lived in New York City during the Great Depression.  She married a Japanese artist, a union her family had annulled.  She later settled in the Carolinas with her second husband and raised a son.  Instead of being a stay-at-home mom when all moms stayed at home, she undertook numerous careers including wheeling and dealing antiques and cooking up a storm. Rather than slowing down, she was writing books and cookbooks.  She was close to her nephew Truman Capote, yet their falling out over some paperweights hurt her deeply and lasted over a decade. She eventually retired to Florida near family, yet yearned to return to Monroeville, Alabama, her hometown.

Marie and I developed a special relationship when I was working on her memoirs the last year of her life.  “You can write whatever I tell you,” she assured me on more than one occasion.  “It’s all fair game.”  We talked on the telephone about three times a week.   When I was delving into a new topic, our conversations might last forty to fifty minutes.  Other times, it was just a “hello, how you doing” kind of call.   One exchange we had on several occasions went as follows.

“How’s my sweetie pie, Jim?” she inquired of my husband.

“No, he’s my sweetie pie,” I responded, wanting to make sure we understood each other.

“If I were twenty years younger, I’d go after him,” she informed me.

“Well, good luck with that,” I retorted.

And then we laughed. Regardless of the subject matter or the mood we were in, we never got off the phone without a chuckle.

Is that all you have to say for yourself?”  Marie asked as we wrapped up a conversation.

The author visiting Marie Rudisill at home in Florida.

“Yes, I can’t think of anything else,” I replied.

“Well, I love you, Sweetie.”

“I love you, Marie.”

I miss you, too.

 

© 2011 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

 

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