Column: Fruitcake season is upon us

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Roger VanHaren

It’s the time of year when fruitcakes start to show up on store shelves. Unfortunately, fruitcakes are much maligned. David Letterman once joked, “They’re now screening fruitcakes at security checks in airports. Even the screeners can’t tell what those little red things are!”

Well, I know that those “little red things” could be candied pineapple (dyed red) or candied cherries, but what about the other stuff? What else is in fruitcake? What’s the yellow stuff? Could be candied citron – made from the thick peel of the citrus fruit of the same name, or other diced candied citrus rinds. The “green things” could be green candied cherries or green-dyed candied pineapple. Besides the candied fruit pieces, you might have golden and black raisins, chopped dates, almond slices or chopped walnuts.

But you know what? I like fruitcake. Lots of people deride the holiday dessert as an inedible doorstop, but I like it. Why do people make so much fun of it? There are hundreds of fruitcake jokes, I suppose. A long time ago, I heard Johnny Carson speculate on “The Tonight Show” that there is actually only one fruitcake in existence; it simply gets passed around. And around …

“What’s in Fruitcake?” I found the following recipe several times on the internet:

Ingredients: 1 cup water, 1 cup sugar, 4 large eggs, 2 cups dried fruit, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 cup brown sugar, lemon juice, nuts and 1 gallon whiskey.

Instructions: Sample a glass of the whiskey to check for quality. Take a large bowl. Check the whiskey again to be sure that it is of the highest quality. Pour 1 level cup and drink. Repeat. Turn on the electric mixer; beat 1 cup butter in a large fluffy bowl. Add 1 teaspoon sugar and beat again. Make sure the whiskey is still OK. Cry another tup. Turn off the mixer.

Break two legs and add to the bowl and chuck in the cup of fried druit. Mix on the turner. If the fried druit gets stuck in the beaterers, pry it loose with a drewscriver. Sample the whiskey to check for tonsisticity. Next, sift 2 cups of salt. Or something. Who cares? Check the whiskey. Now sift the lemon juice and strain the nuts. Add one table. Spoon. Of sugar or something. Whatever you can find.

Grease the oven. Turn the cake tin to 350 degrees. Don’t forget to beat off the turner. Throw the bowl out of the window. Check the whiskey again. Go to bed. Who the heck likes fruitcake anyway?


I’ve heard all kinds of jocular uses for fruitcake, including using slices to balance a wobbly kitchen table, sending them to the U.S. Air Force in the Middle East to be dropped from planes and using them as speed bumps to slow down the neighborhood drag racers. I’ve even heard that the ancient Egyptians used fruitcake to build the Great Pyramids.

But I think that the time has come to ease up on the much-abused, much-maligned fruitcake. If you get a fruitcake as a gift, it is not a curse – it’s a gift! We need to be considerate and appreciative of the rich history and tastes that are passed on whenever one of these colorful treats exchanges hands. It is time to restore the fruitcake’s good reputation.

Fruitcake has been a holiday tradition for hundreds of years. The oldest references to fruitcake date back to Roman times, when the recipe included pomegranate seeds, pine nuts and raisins mixed into barley mash. Yummy stuff!

In Europe in the 1700s, a ceremonial type of fruitcake was baked at the end of the nut harvest and consumed the following year to celebrate the beginning of the next harvest.

In the 18th century in England, there were laws restricting the use of plum cake (the generic word for dried fruit at the time) to Christmas, Easter, weddings, christenings and funerals.

Between 1837 and 1901, fruitcake was very popular. I read that Queen Victoria received a fruitcake for her birthday one year and, legend has it, she put it aside for a year as a sign of restraint, moderation and good taste.

It is the custom in England for unmarried wedding guests to put a slice of the cake, traditionally a dark fruitcake, under their pillow at night so they will dream of the person they will marry.

With a history like that, what’s not to love about fruitcake?

It’s good for you, too! Fruitcake is full of healthy nutrients. The fruit and fiber in fruitcake is loaded with antioxidants, molecules that protect cells from disease and damage.

And what about fruitcake’s legendary lifespan? Can it really reach antiquity and still be edible? I read that if a fruitcake is left out on the kitchen counter, it will last about four months, after which time the nuts go bad. But stored in the refrigerator – not frozen – “they’re good pretty much indefinitely.”

There’s a town called Claxton in Georgia, which is the home of the Georgia Fruit Cake Co. Claxton has long embraced fruitcake as its claim to fame. City-limits signs and a 50-foot water tower carry the slogan ”Fruitcake Capital of the World.” The Georgia Fruit Cake Co. regularly sells about 150,000 pounds to the military each year! Claxton’s main rival is Corsicana, Texas – where the Collin Street Bakery cranks out about 4.5 million pounds of fruitcake annually. (By the way, Corsicana also calls itself the Fruitcake Capital.) Fruitcake is not a joking matter in those two towns.

So what do you say? Is fruitcake so bad? Should fruitcake be the brunt of every holiday joke? As a fan of fruitcake, I am challenging you to give it a try! If your mom doesn’t make fruitcake or Grandma doesn’t send you one, you can buy it at many grocery stores or order it online. Or … if you’d like to become really proactive, you can join the Society for the Protection and Preservation of Fruitcake. It’s a real organization. I didn’t make it up!

Contact Roger VanHaren at