It was my first Christmas in Greece. Christmas in Athens in those days was a minor holiday; there were no carols, trees or decorations to speak of. I was pregnant and homesick and couldn’t understand much of anything. The kind Trimis family called me their nyphi—their bride—and used another word which sounded like Ka-ee-men-ee. When I began to understand Greek, I discovered that the word meant “poor little thing.”
I had dismayed the family by having to excuse myself from the dinner table when I saw the treat they had prepared in my honor for American Thanksgiving: Octopus. Now I wanted to redeem myself by making an American treat for them: Fruitcake.
With a great deal of help and with notes scribbled in phonetic Greek, I assembled all the ingredients. I had karidia (nuts), phrouta (fruit), zahari (sugar) voutero (butter) and alevri (flour.) There was no Greek word for baking powder, which was simply called bay-ek-keen.
The enormous kitchen was well-appointed, with a European range and oven, a point-of-use water heater, and a real ice box for which a block of ice was delivered every week. I mixed my ingredients according to a recipe I had come by somehow, put the cake pan in the oven, and was perplexed that the heat settings didn’t go as high as 350 degrees.
The family suggested I use the highest setting and cook the fruitcake a little longer, but after about twenty minutes, it became obvious that something was burning. That’s how I learned about the difference between Celsius and Fahrenheit. 350 degrees Fahrenheit is 662 Celsius.
The Trimises were very sorrowful that my American cake looked like a very large charcoal briquette. I wrapped it up in a napkin and took it to my room. Sometimes I would nibble on it, occasionally finding a piece of candied fruit which had survived the cremation.