Years and years ago my brother-in-law brought me a swank little fruitcake, all packaged and primped and wrapped up, all the way from London to my not-so-tony walk-up apartment in Manhattan's Upper West Side. I opened it up, fully expecting my fussy palate to become enthralled at the first bite of fancy cake, but no amount of passport stamps, customs forms, and British spelling ("coloUr"!!!) could make me choke the vile thing down.
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Most of my childhood memories center around food and one of the earliest involves Fig Newtons. Before my brother had the audacity to be born on my fourth birthday, I was a painfully shy only child. So when my aunt and cousin drove in from out of town for a visit, I felt slightly terrified. My cousin was a bone fide Big Kid who could ride a bike and stuff. Don't those Big Kids pick on the Little Ones? I didn't plan on sticking around to find out.
In her introduction to this recipe (originally titled Polenta Shortcake with Raisins, Dried Figs, and Pine Nuts) Italian cuisine high priestess Marcella Hazan writes that James Beard was overcome by this dessert when he traveled to Venice long, long ago. "He was fascinated by this local specialty, whose nuts and dried fruits are redolent of imperial Venice's trading days with the Near East," she wrote.