As each year came to a close and the north Georgia mountains took on its icy glaze, I was certain of a few things.
First, it was time to kill the hog, and that meant, all the fresh sausage I could hold. Biscuits and thick, bubbly sausage gravy with tidbits of meat weighing it down as only mama could make. Daddy preferred the red-eye gravy, and mama would make it for him. I would turn up my nose and reach for the creamy goo instead.
Then, there were fried pies. In the fall, mama would dry the apples on tattered, discarded front door screens. After a few days, she would gather, then freeze them in the little quart boxes for a winter treat. I couldn't stand it. Inevitably, within a couple of weeks of stacking the boxes neatly in calculated rows in the freezer, I would drag out a box and beg for fried pies. She'd roll out a dough, cut it hap-haphazardly, stuff it with cooked apples, and with bubbling oil in the iron skillet, she'd drop them in. I'd hold my breath until I finally saw the edges turning brown. She would scoop each ready one onto a towel and simultaneously give me the evil eye. I had to wait. Not long, but I still had to wait. Finally, she'd nod and I'd grab. The taste of that first bite would hold me all winter.
Finally, her orange slice cake. We hated fruit cake, but there was something about this cake - even though it had most of the same ingredients - that had the perfect crunch, the perfect flavor. I honestly can't remember taking part in the baking, but I do remember the moment she took it out of the oven. She'd pour the glaze onto the steaming cake, and it inhaled the orange juice mixture. I'd watch puddles form on the plate, and it took all the strength in me not to run my finger around the plate's edge. Again, it was the evil eye.
For those fruit cake haters, here's a variation that just might turn into a tradition. A couple of things to keep in mind: it takes forever to cook and it weighs a ton. As for the evil eye, you will have to work on that one yourself.
Juette's Orange Slice Cake
For the cake:
1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup buttermilk
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 (12-ounce) box dried dates, chopped
1 pound orange slice candies, chopped
2 cups pecans, chopped
1/2 cup flour for dredging
2 cups sweetened coconut flakes
For the glaze:
2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup orange juice
Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Grease and flour a tube pan.
For the cake: In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar together until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. In a separate bowl, dissolve baking soda in buttermilk. Add flour to butter mixture alternating with the buttermilk mixture, beginning and ending with flour. In another bowl, toss dates, nuts and chopped orange slices in 1/2 cup flour until coated. Stir in coconut until well-combined. Add to batter and mix until well combined.
Bake in a prepared pan for about 2 hours or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. (I had to add an extra 45 minutes to baking time; of course, it could be my ancient oven.)
For the glaze: Meanwhile, combine powdered sugar and orange juice in a small bowl until smooth. Remove cake from pan and cool cake completely. Drizzle glaze over cake. Or, when cake comes out of the oven, use a toothpick to poke holes and pour glaze on cake. Let cake stand in tube pan overnight before inverting.