“I’m going to make a fruitcake this year for Christmas,” I announced to Edna one fall day, when we bumped into each other in the supermarket.
“Why would you do a thing like that?” she asked.
“I like fruitcake.”
“Shhh,” she said, quickly looking from side to side as she nudged me behind the potato bin. “Someone might hear you.”
“So what if they do?”
“You wouldn’t want anyone to know you like fruitcake or, much less, spend time and money making one,” she whispered.
“Well, I am particular. I don’t like just any old fruitcake,” I explained. “My favorite is a pound-cake-style that’s loaded with candied cherries and nuts and laced with an ancient preservative.”
Struck speechless, Edna rolled her eyes and sighed.
Sadly, there are only a few fruitcake aficionados left in the world and we are a lonesome and loathsome lot. The term “fruitcake” more often denotes people who have nutty qualities rather than a robust, sinfully rich cake. I tried to explain to Edna that the fruitcake’s greatest claim to fame is that it lasts nearly forever and is the one thing that can’t be broken in shipping. She agreed.
“A sturdy cake was great for medieval crusaders on a winter campaign and even came in handy when their catapults ran out of ammo, but it’s outlived its usefulness,” she declared.
Johnny Carson Ruined the Fruitcake for Us
Like many Americans, Edna was brainwashed by Johnny Carson some years ago. The late night comedian put the hurt on fruitcakes, when he declared that there was only one left in the world and it was being passed around among gift-givers each year.
As a testimony to the cake’s longevity, one 125-year-old fruitcake showed up on the Tonight Show. An Ohio housewife had baked it shortly before she died in 1878. The family didn’t have the heart to eat or dispose of it. Instead, they kept it under glass and showed it off on special occasions.
I could never replicate a confectionery worthy of such honor, still I determinedly stacked my cart with the sticky candied fruits that sell for the price of a fine Stilton.
“I think you have a fruitcake fetish,” Edna blurted out.
“And, I think you are a …a … a fruitcake bigot,” I snapped back.
“No, I’m not. I have a very open mind—or you might say open mouth—when it comes to food.”
“Okay, so what have you tried recently that’s been daring?”
Keeping Harry Happy
“Well, Harry is always the problem. He hates me tampering with his favorite foods, so I have to be a bit stealthy when cooking anything new. Last Thanksgiving I passed up our favorite cornbread and sausage stuffing for a recipe I found on the Internet called ‘Marilyn Monroe’s Turkey Dressing.’
“I bet that was spicy,” I said with a chuckle.
“Well, it definitely had some non-traditional ingredients. She used the giblets, but added three kinds of nuts, seven seasonings, and sourdough bread, but no broth, eggs or fat! And—get this—she also threw in some chopped beef and a handful of grated Parmesan!
“Call me unimaginative, but I have never mixed beef and poultry organs in the same dish and I can’t believe Julia Child would approve of such a bizarre mishmash. But the Italian cheese part is understandable, after all, she was married to Joe DiMaggio for about nine months,” I said. “What did Harry think of the dish?”
“At first, he was intrigued by the name of the recipe. I’m sure he had visions of Marilyn dressed in a crepe apron, standing atop white stilettos, bent over retrieving a well-stuffed turkey from the oven. But he ate it.”
“He called it fluffy.
“Well, no one ever called my fruitcakes ‘fluffy,’” I said proudly “They are robust and aromatic as they should be.”
“Come to think of it, Harry likes fruitcake. If you have extra, you can send it to him.”
So that year I baked enough for both Harry and me. He was deeply touched and revealed that long ago he had joined the Society for the Protection and Preservation of Fruitcake, a group that promotes the fruity nature of the cake all year round. Though he never told Edna, he once attended Colorado’s Great Fruitcake Toss, where contestants compete to see who can hurl pieces of leftover cake the greatest distance.
“We ‘fruit cakers’ need to have a good arm as well as a sense of humor about our obsession,” he declared to me with a devilish smile. I had to agree.
By Jean Carnahan