Yesterday, I found out that my husband likes fruitcake. How could he? I feel betrayed. He’s committed a sin of omission. We’ve been together for 10 Christmases, and he had never admitted to this until now.
I have two theories for his liking that dense, gooey mass—a waste of sugar and flour that could be put to better use in, say, cookies. One, his taste buds are warped. Rob’s mother freely admits that she’s a bad cook. My husband and his brother grew up eating burnt food. Anything not burnt has come to be accepted as good food.
Let’s call the second possible explanation, “Christmas Envy.” My husband is Jewish. He strums Christmas carols on his guitar: Silent Night, O Holy Night and such, but not the classics written by a Jew, Irving Berlin. He gives Christmas presents. Maybe he’s embraced fruitcake because it’s part of the whole merry package.
A friend of mine told me yesterday that her husband also likes fruitcake. She writes, “but he was too clueless to hide it. I've known all along, so it's a category within a category...people who like fruitcake but know enough to hide it.”
In Manitou Springs, people don’t conceal their dislike of fruitcake. They celebrate it. Every January since 1996, the Chamber of Commerce sponsors the Great Fruitcake Toss. Part of the event includes competing for greatest distance. In an article in Failure Magazine, the writer describes the various competitions:
“Over the years the Chamber has spiced things up by adding a variety of different events, and today just three of the eight categories involve throwing a fruitcake for distance. In the "Launch" competition, competitors are permitted to use a mechanical device—like a slingshot, golf club, or bow & fruitcake—to send the blocks of cake airborne. And in the "Targets" category, competitors earn points by hitting targets placed 75, 125 and 175 feet away. There's even an event in which fruitcakes are shagged like fly balls, and competitors run to and fro attempting to catch them using baseball gloves, buckets, fishing nets and the like.”
In addition to being an event that offers a means for putting fruitcake to some use, the chamber’s entry fee is the donation of at least one non-perishable food item, which goes to the local food bank. Perhaps this contest keeps fruitcake from ending up on the shelves there.
No doubt, fruitcake has an image problem, and marketing types eager to re-invent its identity. One bakery attempting the makeover calls itself The Edible Fruitcake Company in Florida to distinguish itself from the inedible kinds. The bakery offers the classic, available in loaf or ringform—or almost any shape you like (football?)--in weights up to three pounds, made from a “secret blend of freshly ground spices.” The descriptions sound like the kind of fruitcake you don’t want to eat. (Reminds me of the times my mother tried to convince me that, with enough onions, liver tastes good.) The Special Classic is aged in brandy for two months. Another company sells a gluten-free version, and still another makes a sugar-free cake. Seems like a lot of bother considering the number of people I know dislike it.
I also question the value of its shelf life. One year, according to several online bakeries. Does that mean fruitcake is always fresh or tastes stale year-round? I can’t think of any baked good I like that would go uneaten for even a week. Bread, cupcakes, brownies and cookies taste better fresh. Imagine getting a tin of homemade cookies and deciding not to tear into it immediately. Fruitcake doesn’t tempt or test your willpower like that. (Though, if you want to feel virtuous, you could stock your pantry with fruitcake and mark each day you resisted temptation.)
A few years ago, fruitcake manufacturers petitioned the US Food and Drug Administration to lower the serving size on their fruitcakes nutrition labels. The petition reads in part:
“Our labels comply with the present FDA standards and guidelines regarding proper labeling and specifically serving size. We believe that the FDA serving size does not in actuality conform to customary consumption practice because the richness of the product causes it to be normally consumed in 1 oz to 1.5 oz portions.”
Ahem, maybe people eat smaller portions of fruitcake not because of the product’s richness, but out of courtesy to the host pushing a chunk—probably a gift--toward a guest. “A smaller slice, please. After all your delicious cooking, I’m so full,” one might say in that situation.
The fruitcake people, however, don’t see it that way, of course. It’s not only about taste, but a matter of cost, they write in their petition:
“The expense of the product is also a factor, since the current FDA serving size guideline calls for a portion costing over $3.00, typically. Customarily, our 14 oz loaf will serve 10 generous slices.”
Here’s the closest they get to admitting reality:
“I have never observed anyone actually eating l/3 of that cake in one sitting, as called for by the present government guideline, nor would we ever suggest for anyone to do so, as we would consider that to be over-indulgent and probably unhealthy.”
Mind you, they don’t describe what makes their “delicacy” unhealthy.
The FDA arrived at that portion based on an inadequate sample size in the USDA Nationwide Food Consumption Survey. Over a four-year period, only 19 people in some 80,000-plus households answered the question about eating fruitcake.
I’ll have to ask my husband whether he was one of the 19.