My final essay for my English class
Christmas has always been an interesting holiday for me. Growing up, my family unit consisted of my mother and myself. Every year until I turned 16, the Sunday after school closed for the holidays we would get on a plane and go to Jamaica where my maternal grandparents still lived. My mother would stay up late packing and early on Sunday morning a family friend would swing by and manhandle the two giant suitcase in the back of his car and take us to the airport.
Getting from our house in Trinidad to my grandparent’s house in Jamaica took a day. We would leave our house around 5:30am and drive eastward into the sun towards the airport. The flight was always full and check-in, then boarding felt indeterminable. There were no direct flights from Trinidad to Jamaica and our flight usually had three or four stops which turned a four hour trip into six or seven. The length of the trip was compounded by two problems I faced as a child – the excruciating ear pain pain I would experience on take off and landing and my propensity for throwing up airline meals.
I think the two might have been related but the limited window of the pain and regurgitation did nothing to temper the excitement of seeing my grandparents and participating in one of the best Christmas traditions – making fruit cake or as it’s known in the Caribbean, black cake. Most people hear fruit cake and think of a dry, tasteless log that gets passed from family member to family member like a lodestone, Caribbean fruit cake is completely different animal. The day after we arrived my mother and I would head to the supermarket and purchase the approximately 12-16 combined pounds of fruit, flour, sugar, eggs and butter as well as a large quantity of alcohol. We would then head back to the house where my job was the grind all the fruit – prunes, raisins, currants and into a huge metal bowl that existed only for this purpose.
Once the fruit was ground, my grandmother would pull out another metal bowl and jars of fruit that had been soaking in alcohol from the previous year and we would take turns mixing in the other ingredients until we had cake batter. The current year’s fruit I had ground went into the jars, got liberally covered with white rum and put into the pantry to soak for the next year. Once the batter was made it, the next step was greasing and lining the pans. My grandmother’s cake was the stuff of legend, my mother would take five or six cakes home with us and dole slices out to her close friends and confidantes. My grandfather’s clients and business partners would swing by during the holidays to get a slice. This was our tradition, this is how the holidays truly began for me.
The year I turned 16, my grandfather died and mother strong armed and her mother into moving to Trinidad with us. That Christmas we tried making black cake but somehow my mother managed to fall asleep and let the cakes burn. This became the excuse for a massive fight every year between my mother and grandmother which pretty much turned me off the whole holiday. The Christmas after I emigrated to the US, my wife who loves the holidays, thought it would be a good idea for use to attempt to restart this tradition. After some fits and starts we have finally perfected my grandmother’s black cake recipe. Our new tradition is to make a quarter batch in cupcake molds and share them with friends.