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Joke if you want to, but fruitcake has rich rewards


I am a pro-fruitcake person. There are not many of us.

That becomes apparent now in the weeks leading up to Christmas when the anti-fruitcake types are out in force. These anti-fruitcakers do not appreciate the better things of life.

They are the kind of people who tell fruitcake jokes. Jokes like "Thanks for the fruitcake. It made a great doorstop." Or, "Thanks for the fruitcake. I used slices of it as drink coasters." Or, "Thanks for the fruitcake. I used a piece of it to cork a wine bottle."

The anti-fruitcakers think they are so clever. They are, as we used to say in junior high school about people we disapproved of, "just trying to be popular."

Unfortunately, polling data seem to indicate that it is working.

Being anti-fruitcake is more popular in America than being pro-fruitcake. A holiday baking survey taken a few years ago by the Land O Lakes butter outfit found that only 9 percent of the 1,000 respondents said they would be happy to get a fruitcake as a gift. Most preferred homemade cookies.

Making an argument for fruitcake, like making the cake itself, is difficult. Essentially, when you hold the pro-fruitcake position, you argue in favor of flavor, tradition and hard work. Flavor and tradition have their believers, but hard work sends folks running.

I regard store-bought cakes as faux fruitcake. The true fruitcakes are made at home, an experience that is viewed as anathema by anti-fruitcakers who think cooking means punching a microwave.

Good fruitcake, the real stuff, is slow and complicated. I am not universally in favor of spending endless hours in the kitchen. I do not, for instance, believe we should make our own soap on the kitchen stove. But there are things in life that are worth devoting time and effort to.

For me, one of them is fruitcake. The taste, aromas and overall feeling of well-being that come from making a real fruitcake are delicious rewards for the work.

I reminded myself of that the other morning as I began making our household's annual batch of fruitcakes. After fetching a few ingredients - figs, raisins, currants, dates, walnuts, pecans, apricots and pineapple - I undertook the task of stripping the rinds off oranges and lemons.

First, I used a vegetable peeler to remove a two- to three-inch strip of rind from the fruit. Then I flipped these strips over, and using a small, sharp knife, painstakingly removed any white pulp that was clinging to the underside.

If left on, the white pulp would give the fruitcake a bitter flavor, not the clean citrus notes that pure rind should provide. As I labored, I reminded myself that a purified rind tastes like fruit, but a pulpy rind would taste like the pieces of rubber found in faux fruitcakes.

I candied the rinds, tossed the fruit, mixed the batter and baked the cakes for five hours. I reminded myself that if a fruitcake is worth making, it is worth making right. (I got angry at some vaguely worded directions in the recipe I was using, but quickly regained my good humor when I remembered that I had written the directions. The recipe came from my book "Raising Kids & Tomatoes" (Baltimore Sun, 1998).

So during the holiday season, I am content to let the anti-fruitcakers have their fun. They can have their quick, easy laughs by saying things like, "I don't eat fruitcake, or anything that has a longer life expectancy than I do." They have their little jokes, I have my deep, rich, homemade fruitcake.

Pub Date: 12/13/98

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