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December 21, 2009

The fruitcake quandary



I have a dirty little secret to confess: I like fruitcake. And what's happened to fruitcake in my lifetime annoys me.

I guess store-bought fruitcakes are the reason it's now the butt of so many jokes, but you simply can't make and give fruitcake anymore and expect it to be appreciated.

I've written about this before on this blog, but I'm bringing up the subject again because the same thing is happening (or has happened) to holiday sweaters. ...

I wish I could cut each of you a slice of my mother's Virginia fruitcake to try. It's a white fruitcake, which means it's made with finely diced citron (cut by hand), Brazil nuts and pecans and is light in color. It is, of course, soaked for months in brandy and rum, so it's quite alcoholic. A very adult treat to have thinly sliced with tea.

Needless to say, it looks nothing like the fruitcake pictured. It has no candied cherries, and all the nuts are chopped quite fine.

I used to make a batch every year until my brother (yes, Brother Bim, that brother) made some really ugly fruitcake jokes one year when I sent him one. Since he worships everything else that ever came out of our mother's kitchen even more than I do, I realized everyone else I gave a fruitcake to must have just been being polite.

My husband and Gailor, of course, aren't interested because it doesn't involve chocolate. 

When I was at Whole Foods the other day, the bakery was handing out samples of its fruitcake. It was nice and moist, and I'm sure the ingredients were all very healthy, but there wasn't even the fragrance of alcohol. I didn't really see the point. 

I love all the old-fashioned Christmas desserts, probably because my father the English professor did. My mother made a plum pudding every year, with suet of course; and he was in charge of making the hard sauce. He insisted on creaming the butter with granulated sugar because that's how the Victorians would have done it. (They didn't have confectioners sugar.) My younger brother and I hated it because it was grainy.

I even made a figgy pudding once.

(AP Photo/Ryan Hasler)

Posted by Elizabeth Large at 1:48 PM | | Comments (37)


I love a good fruit cake. I even like a so-so fruit cake.

There are no bad fruit cakes, just bad people.

I will be setting up a table on High St on Dec. 26 to collect your unwanted fruit cakes.

You were expecting something sarcastic, weren't you?

They could probably move a lot more holiday sweaters if they stopped making them look like fruitcakes.

Captcha: The pressure

i don't know how you could have the patience for this blog if you didn't have a fondness for fruitcakes

Another fruitcake fan here. Opening a tin of fruitcake on a snowy winter day with a cup of tea. Great.

I buy my fruitcakes from the Abbey of of Gethsemani. The cakes are baked by Kentucky monks, so of course they are made with bourbon.

I'm ringing in on fruitcakes. Even a so-so one can be made good with enough booze.

unbelievaboh has comment of the week

Fruitcakes are okay to me, and I agree with Kitkat in that enough booze will make any fruitcake better.
My mom still makes one for my brother every year. She used to make a severak of them every year.

might Falser

I hate to be a contrarian, but I hate fruitcake (although I will make an exception for cousin B's in Minnesota--maybe it's the cold weather that makes her exceptional).

Worse Christmas gift ever was a re-gifted commercial fruit cake from a family member (just after they had told us how they hated getting fruitcake from another family member every year).

I love fruitcake. Making them is a family tradition. Each year the family gets together and we make a dozen or more with my great-grandmother's recipe. We soak ours in wine, home made if we have some. They usually don't go out of the family except to very special friends. This year, one fell apart coming out of the oven, so we all sampled the cake, warm from the oven with vanilla ice cream on top. Yummy!!!!

I'm with Gailor and her dad - if there's no chocolate, what's the point?

My wife makes fruitcake every year...and says it's for the brother-in-law. She can't fool me; she keeps them when others reject them...

I made a "Christmas cake" this year, using a friend's family recipe (her family is Kiwi). Although it's supposed to be fed for the few weeks leading up to Christmas, I haven't, because I'm pregnant and don't want it to be alcoholic. It's well-preserved in an airtight container in a cool place, but I'm hoping it won't be too dry when it comes time to decorate with marzipan and royal icing!!

I enjoy fruitcake although we haven't had one in years. We are making a red velvet cake with coconut this year.
Unbelievaboh definitely should get the comment of the week - haha.

My mother used to buy a number of fruitcakes each year to give as Christmas gifts to the mailman, teachers, etc. This was eons before the Internet,, so I presume she mailed off her order sometime int the fall. The cakes would each be in a cigar-box-like white container (I am reluctant to name the company; I think they're still in business and probably have many fans...). To this day, I can recall the (to my mind) nasty, cloying, perfumey aroma of these fruitcakes. And, to this day, I cannot abide fruitcake ... even those that I am assured are "different." No amount of bourbon/brandy/rum ... hell, tequila could redeem fruitcake for me. Sorry. Gack

Captcha, however, has a suggestion: 14 muscatel

That I will never again taste my grandmother's fruitcake or blackberry cobbler -- both secrets went to the grave with her -- is among life's enduring regrets.

Atwater's makes a creditably fruitcake, though, frankly, they could be a little more liberal with the rum.

The people who despise fruitcake are more to be pitied than censured.

I accept Mr. McIntyre's pity with grace, humility, and resolve.

In fact, according to Captcha: knuckle resolving

My British father made fruitcake every year from his father's recipe. He always made it on "Stir-Up" Sunday which is about the third Sunday in November, and has a bible verse saying "Stir up our hearts, o Lord". It had plenty of brandy in it and it was iced with an almond paste and then a royal icing.

I wrote about it here.

WV: Chitlins

My dearest friend reports that this is the Christmas his mother will finally break out the fruitcake she baked 25 years ago, which she stores in a tin and annually heavily souses with rum. Thinking he was joking - and fearing for his demise - I googled "25 year old fruitcake" and was amazed to read: According to The Joy of Cooking, by Irma Rombauer and Marion Becker, "Many people feel that these cakes improve greatly with age. When they are well saturated with alcoholic liquors, which raise the spirits and keep down mold, and are buried in powdered sugar in tightly closed tins, they have been enjoyed as long as 25 years after baking." Curious, has anyone ever eaten (gummed, slurped?) a, um, mature fruitcake?

i like my women like i like my fruitcake-- full of liquor and aged to perfection

There is only one fruitcake. It is passed around. One can eat it if one is heavily soused in rum.

i like my women like i like my fruitcake-- full of liquor and aged to perfection

Trust me, those two are mutually exclusive. I know.

Side note: Isn't it time you stopped with the childish italic bold? Be annoying with words not fonts.

a fruit cake haiku

I love good fruit cake.
It's alcoholic flavor.
Don't be a hater!

So nice to see so many fellow fruitcake lovers. I like Atwater's cake, and wrapping it in a couple of layers of booze-laden cheesecloth (I mix rum and brandy) improves both flavor and texture. Store it in a tin and age it at least a few days, but it tastes better the longer it ages. I bought an Atwater cake last February (at half price), wrapped in soaked cheesecloth, and put it in a tin. I checked it the other day. There's no mold or spoilage, and BOY, is it tasty! I'm looking forward to eating it on Christmas.

top Dorsal (Cleatus' pirate name)

One of my fondest food memories is of the night three of us got stoned and then walked to the center of our little town to go Christmas shopping. At one store they were selling the ubiquitous Claxton fruitcakes for some charity. We must have worked up a mighty hunger on that walk because we bought one of those cakes, left the store and ate the whole thing right there on the street. It was--can you guess?--delicious. We considered buying another one but decided that a second one might be a surfeit of sensory perfection.

My family has been "re-gifting" the same fruitcake for at least 15 years.

"Side note: Isn't it time you stopped with the childish italic bold? Be annoying with words not fonts."

owl meat getoverit

flaquita, that is a great Christmas story.

Ah, I had forgotten Atwater's fruitcake. They were giving away samples last year and it was indeed good, but not good enough to inspire me to actually purchase one. Besides, I had a small portion of cousin B's fruitcake waiting at home.

There was an article in the paper a day or two ago that really offended me. The advice on how to avoid gaining weight over the holidays advised that you should graciously accept any food gifts, then take them home and throw them out. Please--there are still hungry people in this country. If you don't want that fruitcake, I'm sure someone else would appreciate it.

enjoy Acquaint. Uh huh. 'Tis the season.

More fruitcake haiku:

As Homer Simpson would say:
What are all those yellow things?"

end Mingo (my Cherokee proctologist name)

My grandfather used to own a grocery store in S. Carolina, and the bakeries would give him tons of fruitcakes in tins. He'd pour a bottle of bourbon, brandy, or rum on them, stash them in the back of the corner cabinet for a year. He'd give them out to his friends and employees then. Dad said every Christmas the housekeeper would be drunk as a skunk off 2 slices of fruitcake.

My husband and I love fruitcake(you have to taste the rum ) reminds us of the wonderful Christmases of our growing up years in India. We used to get them from Williams and Sonoma...but you have to order them in advance. Atwater's is good too!

Eww, "Polanski lancer"? Really?

I like "real" fruit cake (fruit cake sans the candied fruit).

best snow captcha "local trudging"

HJK – what’s Kiwi? New Zealander?

McI – I miss my grandmother’s blackberry cobbler. I think she used Bisquik, but really, I just miss her. I have a cobbler recipe that I make in her memory for “important” occasions.

The best thing about the holidays? Fruitcake.

MDP, I think I can agree with that. Afterall, there's nothing great about insanely spending money I don't have, crowded stores, and holiday Muzak!

I feel at a loss if a holiday season passes without getting a fruitcake from Collin St. Bakery in Corsicana, TX. Wish I could get more excited about the fruitcakes from the monastery that my priest goes to every August.

Marjory Vindica

That is wonderful post. One of my best food memories is the night three of us were stoned and then walked to the center of our little town to shop for Christmas.

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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