War and Peace

(by Jeanne Hunter)

Christmas came a few months after the end of World War II, as my sister and I were settling back to Life with Father in London. We had been separated for quite a while. When the German bombing had started, we were two of the children (about one and a half million, including mothers of infants) evacuated to rural locations considered to be safe for the duration of the war. While my father was away In Scotland for army training, my mother had a brief affair and then, racked with guilt, confessed to my father, who sued for divorce, got full custody, and told us our mother had died. He thought it would be easier for us. I didn’t learn the truth until some years later.


For this first post-war Christmas, the city was in recovery, and food was still rationed. We saved our meat coupons for three months to get a turkey. We had such a small refrigerator that the turkey would not fit, so my father put it on the window sill with the top of the window open to circulate air. Next morning the turkey had disappeared. The thief must have climbed up, leaned in, and grabbed it.


Our holiday lunch was beans, potatoes, and cranberry sauce—Merry Christmas.


We usually managed to have a turkey for Christmas in those post-war years marked by scarcity, but it would feed us for a month. I never had the classic (and sometimes maligned) fruitcake until many years later, when I had moved to the United States and some friends said they’d love to have one. I looked up a recipe in Mrs. Beeton’s Cookery Book, the famous guide to running a household in Victorian Britain. The request list has grown, and I make at least a dozen every year now. I just add more cherries.


Coda: There was no softening of my father toward my mother until just before they both died at age 75. They were both invited to my nephew David's wedding, which caused great anxiety in the family, but they talked together and actually took to the dance floor, to the astonishment of us all.

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Jeanne Hunter lives in Palm Beach, Florida. Her memoir is Where Has The Evening Gone.

Mrs. Beeton's Christmas Cake


2 c. flour

1/2 t. baking soda

1/2 t. ground cloves

1 t. cinnamon

1 t. allspice

1/2 t. grated nutmeg

1/2 t. salt

1/2 lb. unsalted butter, softened

2 c. dark brown sugar

6 large eggs, beaten

3/4 c. molasses

3/4 c. apple juice

3 T. brandy

1 c. raisins

1 c. golden raisins

1 1/2 c. mixed glacéd fruits

1 c. glacéd cherries

1 c. chopped walnuts

zest of one lemon


Spray either a 10 x 3-in. or two 7 x 3-in. round pans with Baker's Joy cooking spray, and place in the freezer to chill for an hour or overnight.

Preheat oven to 275 F.

Mix flour, baking soda, cloves, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and salt.

In a large bowl, cream butter.

Blend in sugar and beaten eggs.

Mix together molasses, apple juice, and brandy.

Beat into flour mix.

Fold in raisins, fruits, walnuts, and lemon zest, combining well.

Pour into chilled pan(s) and bake for approximately 3 1/2 hours for the larger pan, 3 hours for the smaller pans, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool in pan.

Remove from pan(s), wrap in wax paper then aluminum foil, and store in cool, dry place.

Before serving, frost with optional royal icing.


Optional Royal Icing:


3 large egg whites

5 c. confectioners' sugar, sifted

1 T. lemon juice

1 1/2 t. glycerine


Beat egg whites on low speed until they are foamy and frothy.

Add sugar by large spoonfuls while continuing to beat.

Beat in lemon juice and glycerine on medium speed until the icing stands up in stiff peaks when the beater is lifted.