This enduring winter holiday song originated in 1844 as a poem for children published by Lydia Maria Child. The first version was a Thanksgiving poem of twelve verses, of which I have quoted the first and last. This poem was eventually turned into a song, and Thanksgiving became Christmas. I remember singing this song in school as a child and was never quite sure which holiday it was about, but I loved the jingly lyrics and the image of being all wrapped up in cozy blankets in a sleigh covered with bells as the horse trotted through the wintery snowbanks.
Even more enticing were the images of warm, spicy, steamed Plum Pudding and Pumpkin Pie, fresh out of Grandma’s oven. But most evocative of all was Grandmother herself. For me, Christmas has always been about Grandma. Although we lived far away from my grandmother throughout my childhood, the most exciting part of Christmas was the arrival of Gram’s enormous Christmas box, filled with hand-made quilts she made herself from worn-out summer cotton dresses in bright floral colors pieced together into elaborate patterns with exotic names like “Dresden China Plate,” “Double Wedding Ring” and “Crown of Thorns.” These hand-made works of folk art became our blankets, keeping us cozy on freezing winter nights. I still own several of Gram’s quilts, including the “Crown of Thorns” she gave me as my wedding gift. Even today, in remote, warm Hawaii, these are among my greatest treasures.
The wrapped presents went straight under our Christmas tree, where we would pinch and peek at them until Christmas morning until we were allowed to tear them open. Grandma’s gifts, especially those made with her own hands, always filled our hearts with joy.
My mother took her turn as our matriarch, and her five grandchildren, Peter, Kathleen, David, Michael and Matthew, each carry their own memories of Christmas at Grandma’s house. To quote my niece and co-author, Kathleen, “She was the best Grandma ever!” I hope that every family everywhere treasures their elders along with the children during the holidays and keeps their memories alive when they are gone. My grandparents, parents and all of my aunts and uncles have passed on, and now my generation has become the elders.
Light-jewels fall through lacy evergreens
As the golden breeze carries a dozen leaves
To their final place
Beneath the generous oak
Who parented them.
The morning fog has drifted into memory,
But the leaves still speak to their siblings
As the jays stride among them on their tall legs,
Still whisper as the soft air currents
Shift and lift them nearer their neighbors.
And when a child responds to their call,
They laugh and riot with her feet,
Touch and tickle her,
Celebrate winter’s swirling ever change
With the spirits of our beloveds
Hovering in oaks and pines.
Rudy is the archetype of the hometown hero, who has quietly lived in the same small town, caring for his family and his friends, and celebrating the simple joys of what it means to be a human being. And he has done all this with a level of excellence and integrity that has made him a rich man in quality of life. His passion for the Opera is infectious and has turned me and many others into eager opera fans. His love of fine wine resulted in the creation of Pedulla Wines, his own award-winning brand, started years ago on a shoestring by Rudy and his teaching buddies. Now Rudy is known throughout Monterey County as a wine expert and judge for the Monterey County Fair. When I think of Rudy, I am reminded of Horatio in Hamlet and Rembrandt’s 1669 Self-Portrait at the Age of Sixty-Three, or Cavaradossi from Puccini’s opera Tosca, images of humble men from the enduring world of art who are remembered because they never failed their friends.
This Christmas and Hanukkah, I hope your elders will be at the center of your celebrations. You are welcome to review “A Tea Party for Our Elders” in the “Afternoon Tea for Special Occasions” section of this website. For this menu, I selected sweets that were favorites of the elders in my own family, including Pumpkin Cheesecake, which Rudy loves, the classic Lemon Pound Cake with Strawberries and Chocolate Sauce, and two of my parents’ favorites, Sticky Date Pudding with Caramel Sauce, and good old Chocolate Chip Cookies.
Watsonville Caramel Apple Spice Cake
This recipe appears in the pamphlet “Nine Cakes from Kathy” published in 1999 by Rudy’s daughter Kathleen, my niece and co-author of myteaplanner.com. According to Kathleen, “My father, Rudy, is always looking for a good apple cake recipe and has tried many different kinds. I think this is the one he’s been looking for.”
- 4-5 apples, peeled, cored and chopped into small pieces (3 generous cups)
- 1 cup vegetable oil or melted butter (2 sticks)
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 3 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 heaping teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon allspice
- ¼ teaspoon each of
- Ground ginger
- Mace, and
- Nutmeg, or more or less to taste
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 cup chopped toasted almonds or other nuts
- 1 cup golden raisins
Optional add-ins: chopped candied ginger, grated orange peel, mixed dried fruit, chopped
For the Caramel Icing:
- 1/3 cup golden brown sugar
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 7 tablespoons powdered sugar
Special equipment: paring knife, Bundt pan or angel food cake pan, plastic wrap, large mixing bowl, hand-held electric mixer, rubber spatula, 2 medium sized mixing bowls, flour sifter or sieve, wire rack, small saucepan, wooden spoon, cake pedestal or decorative platter
Makes: 10-12 servings
- Grease and flour a 10”-12” Bundt pan or angel food cake pan and set aside. Peel, core and chop 4-5 apples and set aside in a medium sized bowl covered with plastic wrap. In another medium sized bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda salt and all of the spices. Set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl with a hand-held electric mixer, beat together the vegetable oil (or melted butter,) and sugar. Add the 3 eggs, one at a time, and beat well after each addition until the mixture is fluffy. Gently stir the dry ingredients into the egg mixture.
- Add the vanilla, apples, almonds and raisins and stir gently with a rubber spatula until well combined. Stir in any other ingredients (such as chopped candied ginger) you wish to include.
- Turn the batter into the prepared pan and bake in the pre-heated oven for 50-60 minutes until a wooden skewer comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for 10-15 minutes. Then carefully remove the cake to a cake pedestal or decorative platter. Cool to room temperature.
- Make the Caramel Icing: In a small saucepan, combine the brown sugar, cream and butter. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook over moderate heat, stirring with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool to lukewarm. With a hand-held electric mixture, carefully beat in the powdered sugar. Using a rubber spatula, immediately pour the icing over the top of the cooled cake, allowing it to drip over the sides.
- This cake keeps well for a few days at room temperature, covered with a cake dome, or carefully wrapped.