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Chicago Tribune, August 5, 1876. There was a time I wrote lots of cranky letters to the editor, so I recognize Susan here as a kindred spirit to some degree. I understand her impulse, for example, to write in and correct the printer’s error that so distorted the meaning of her last missive–that would make my brain itch too until I did what I could to set the record straight. I know, I know: I am plainly not a well man.

But that, as the saying goes, is neither here, nor, to complete the cliché, there. The real issue here is, as always, mince.

Anyway, as anti-mince pie discourse goes, Susan’s letter lucid, powerful and comprehensive. She’s working the temperance argument, but her objections neither begin nor end there. A “Grahamite,” for those who don’t know, is a follower of dietary reformer and sick, tormented bastard Sylvester Graham. I kinda love the way she distances herself from the dean of puritanical sex-and-diet cranks in hopes of buying herself a little credence. Memo to self: Stay vigilant for opportunities to preface strong opinions with “I am no Grahamite, but. . .”

“Aunt Lucy,” by the way, was not the byline of a Tribune staffer but another reader who regularly obliged the paper with recipes, domestic tips and other free content. Here is her letter from the issue of June 29, 1876, that inspired Susan’s response:


  1. Hey, did the Tribune print Aunt Lucy’s black cake recipe? Those old-school fruitcakes were some seriously heavy eating: rum-soaked slabs of raisin, citron, and currant held together with 2 dozen eggs and 5 pounds of butter.

    Susan is clearly one of those touchy Midwesterners with an inferiority complex about New Englanders, or she’d never have suggested adding minced horseradish to the plum preserves or the mushroom ketchup. I hope Aunt Lucy had the sense to leave her advice alone and stuff her babies full of pie for breakfast and black cake and toasted cheese before bed.

    Bet Susan was an old maid.

  2. I’m not taking that bet. She obviously wore self-regenerating underwear made of cobwebs.

    I will check for the black cake recipe. I’ve heard of black pudding but never black cake before. Hey Melynda, thou erudite, when they talk about citron in these contexts, do they mean candied peel or do they mean that weird fruit that looks like a lemon but isn’t a lemon?

  3. Actually, both guesses are right: it’s the candied peel of that lemon-like fruit, the citron (citrus medica). The “medica,” according to my sources, doesn’t refer to medicine, but to the Medes, as the fruit was once known as the Median apple.

    A really good black fruitcake has candied citron, lemon, and orange peel, raisins, currants, candied cherries, and chopped dried figs. The recipe I use calls for about 5 pounds of mixed fruit marinated in a bottle of Passover wine and a fifth of dark rum for at least a month. Guaranteed to provoke as many nightmares as a slice of mince pie topped with Welsh rarebit.

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