Wesson woman keeps fruitcake tradition alive

Published 9:57 pm Monday, December 21, 2009

Whether they enjoy them or not, everyone seems to have a story — or at least a joke — about Christmas fruitcakes.

Wesson’s Lou Byrd said she wasn’t even really that interested in making fruitcakes for a long time, as her mother-in-law was the fruitcake gourmet in the family. Byrd said her husband Malford’s mother made the fruitcakes around November of each year.

When she passed away, there were some big shoes to fill.

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“Consequently he said, ’Lou, you will be making fruitcake now,”’ she said with a laugh, adding, “But he didn’t have a recipe.”

So it became a trial and error process, with Lou trying recipes and Malford critiquing the efforts as possible replicas of his mother’s recipe.

“We went through all these books and found one that he tasted and said, ’That’s just like Mom’s,”’ she said. “I don’t think we really had all that many disasters.”

Lou Byrd said her youngest brother makes it a point each year to ask her if she’s going to make him a fruitcake. But part of the tradition is that she shoots him down.

“He would say, ’When am I going to get my fruitcake,’ and I’d say, ’When you buy the ingredients,”’ she said. “One year he said, ’I’m going to buy them this year.”’

So, $32 later, Byrd said her brother had learned that fruitcake is not just a gift and an art, it’s an investment.

And Malford Byrd saves the fruitcake until his son Mike can get there. So in the meantime, they also make fruitcake cookies.

Meanwhile, the legendary fruitcake has also gained fame beyond the family. Blythe Jinks Reid said she remembers the holiday treat from when she dated their grandson, Timothy Byrd.

“Besides the amazing taste, knowing there truly is love in every bite,” she said. “Mawmaw Byrd truly loves the people she bakes for and her compassion for others is truly in the recipe, which makes her fruitcake the best.”

Lou Byrd said that she loves to make the fruitcakes for those she loves, but that there’s “tough love” in the fruitcakes as well. The fruitcake recipe isn’t going to pass itself down, after all.

“I make half a fruitcake for Michael,” she said with a laugh. “I think his wife needs to learn how to make the fruitcakes.”

But everyone is not as versed in the fruitcake arts as Byrd. Shelly Jenkins stood with a blank look on her face as she perused the ingredients at a local retailer.

“I thought I’d try to make one myself this year, instead of getting the one that comes from the bakery,” she said. “But I can’t really figure out why anyone would want to put those green cherries in it. Those ARE cherries, right?”

And Doretha Washington of Franklin County said she and her sister Sharmane actually passed the cliche fruitcake back and forth for a time. While it wasn’t year-to-year, the fruitcake did make the rounds several times.

“It was like a joke,” she said. “It was almost like a competition. I’d come in and it would be sitting on my kitchen table, so I’d lock my door and leave it on her nightstand. Then I’d find it in my mailbox.”

But that was years ago, she said. There hasn’t been another “fruitcake war” in quite some time.

“Maybe that’s what she needs for Christmas this year,” Washington said with a laugh.