My sister Donna reminded me just recently, I am the only one she knows who likes what many people claim to detest and make fun of, calling it a door stop or unpalatable loaf. I’m not so sure I even like it, but when we were young kids visiting our grandma Jadwiga over Christmas break, I accepted mine and ate it.
To be clear, I am polite and so when our Aunt Stephie and Uncle Duke took us aside and said they had a special treat just for us then handed us each a thick dark heavily syruped slice of nutty fruit bread with strange green and red cherries in it, what else could we do? We thanked them and then I proceeded to eat mine, making the appropriate “Mmmm” sounds while Donna walked away and stuffed hers right into her knee socks! (She freely and proudly admits to this.)
Made with chopped candied or dried fruit, nuts, spices and sometimes soaked in spirits, fruitcake has been around for ages…literally. Dating back to ancient Rome, it was referred to as satura and was comprised of pomegranate seeds, pine nuts and raisins mixed with barley mash. It made its way to America in the 16th century and in 1913 fruitcake was sold through mail order catalogs to raise money for charities.
So why has this bakery good gotten a bad rap? When did this disrespect even start? Here in the U.S. some believe it may have begun when the lucky people who received those post delivered cakes described them as leaden and stale-tasting. Or it could have started in 1958 after the airing of an episode entitled “A Very Merry Christmas” on “The Donna Reed Show”. In it, a paperboy, excited about receiving a holiday tip, got something he didn’t quite expect and obviously didn’t want. That something was a fruitcake. Maybe Johnny Carson is to blame. As the host of “The Tonight Show” in the mid-60s he joked that fruitcake is the worst gift a person could get!
Granted some fruitcakes are dry. But that is easily remedied. They simply need to be soaked a little longer in bourbon, rum, brandy or cognac so that some moisture is retained. On the plus side, fruitcakes have a long shelf life. A month in the pantry, six months in the fridge or a whole year in the freezer! It’s also thought that fruitcakes may taste even better after a little aging or what is known as “ripening”. So, it’s got that going for it, too.
From my journal: December 14, 2021, Thousand Oaks, CA
“Still remember sending a fruitcake to Donna many years ago…I got it back the next year!”
Yes, it’s true. Donna and I actually sent ONE fruitcake back and forth to each other at Christmas time for a few years. It made us laugh then, and it still does today.
Recently I came across a recipe for the “World’s Best Fruit Cake” on the website called A Beautiful Plate by Laura Davidson. She says, “If you’ve been a fruit cake skeptic, you need to try this one! It will turn you into a convert.” I may just have to try it out, although the total time to make her fruitcake is: 1 Day 2 hours.
I figure if I do take the time to make it, and I don’t like it, I’ll hang on to it until January 3rd aka the “Great Fruitcake Toss Day”. On that day, unwanted loaves are gathered up by unhappy recipients and are launched via hands or other devices to see far they can fly! I’m not sure what happens to the fruitcakes after the official toss…perhaps they are officially tossed into the bin. Fruitcakes…just like Rodney Dangerfield, get no respect.
Now if you are open enough to give this cake another try, and you happen to come by a mouth-watering recipe, or a place that sells a tasty one, please let me know. I am forever rooting for the underdog.