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Is Fruitcake On Your Bucket List? by Michelle Byrd
Back in 2003, when Sonya Thomas shoved 2.2 kilograms of fruitcake down her gullet in ten minutes, she was justifiably crowned the Fruitcake Champion of Buffalo. The tiny 105 lb. Sonya beat out Eric “Badlands” Booker that year. He blamed his loss on his miscalculation of the amount of coffee he needed to wash down his almighty fruitcake. Only 1/8 of an ounce stood between Thomas and Booker when the ten-minute time limit elapsed (1). Oh, brother! Most people don’t desire to eat one nibble of a god-awful fruitcake, much less 2.2 kilograms, or approximately 4.8 pounds of the stuff. Or do they?
A small bakery founded in 1896 still well-known for its fruitcakes is Collin Street Bakery (CSB), located in Corsicana, Texas. The bakery’s web site declares that its fruitcake is what “gets all the attention” and that people as famous as Vanna White and Lyle Lovett have ordered from there. I am pretty sure this qualifies as “ooh la la!” name-dropping among the fruitcake set. Even if White and Lovett are no longer “A-list,” their investment in a mound or so of this fruit-laden victual obviously exists as a source of pride and promotion for the company. Every company needs promotion, but let’s get one thing straight: Collin Street is certainly a steady, little contender in the fruitcake game. It produces over one million fruitcakes per year and ships these cakes to over 200 countries (2). This is just one small, 120-employee store, too (3). So, who is eating all of these fruit cakes?
Well, CSB sends upwards 3,000 of these cakes to troops overseas (2). A fruitcake’s ability to keep for up to 26 years in an airtight container makes it a perfect product for this purpose (4). Plus, we know that Mrs. White and Mr. Lovett are in the mix. I do not have statistics on the rest of CSB’s recipients but am left to assume that these people must be genuine fruitcake lovers or genuine pranksters.
Once CSB’s fruitcakes are purchased, is it possible that each and every one is being eaten? Not if you were to look at what happens to some poor fruitcakes come the New Year. Let’s look at the Annual Great Fruitcake Toss in Manitou Springs, Colorado, each January. This event sounds ridiculous but is not complete willy-nilly. There are rules. Cake weight divisions, the 2 lb and the 4 lb, are in place. Want to launch your fruitcake 175 feet towards a target? Okay, that’s one possibility. Want to catch a big fruitcake being launched at you? Done (4). Caution: the density of fruitcake to mahogany ratio is 1:1. Injury may occur (5).
The Toss is an event in which I wouldn’t mind participating, but I’d need to invest in a fruitcake somehow first. I have never had a memorable piece of fruitcake, if I’ve ever had fruitcake at all. I know for certain that I’ve received and thrown out fruitcake. I am not alone. According to a 2006 report, 47% of people say they’ve done the same (6). The food’s reputation precedes itself. When dealing with a food that has the ability to outdo the lifespan of my pets and my cars, I’d like to think I ain’t gonna touch it. I’ve eaten nastier things, though. Here are some of them: I’ve nibbled on an old Cheeto that I found between the couch cushions. I don’t know how old it was. I’ve eaten lots of crawfish innards and “outtards,” if you know what I mean. Oh, and I’ve eaten off of the $.99 Taco Bell menu past 3 a.m. in the morning. My three years working at a fast food joint tells me there was more than one person on the line that had not washed his hands.
After listing some things I’ve eaten, fruitcake doesn’t sound nearly as atrocious. And, really, it does have its charm. Back in 1994, a local news channel anchor interviewed two older women, both home cooks, Mary Cook and Bessie Selby. Cook and Selby debated over light versus dark fruitcake (6). Throughout the clip, it is clear that these two, sweet ladies were really fond of their recipes; Mrs. Cook clearly took pride in being able to carry on her family’s tradition. I dare you to watch it and not want to try their fruitcakes.
I’ll bet every family can find some sort of fruitcake memory or recipe in its history. If not for taste, maybe fruitcake should carry on for tradition. Baking something out of pure tradition, however, raises this question: “How close to tasting like crap does our grandma’s recipe have to be before we can declare tradition a stupid agenda?” Hey, look at it this way. Even if grandma’s recipe does stink, we are lucky enough to live in the Food Network age. This age allows us to tweak grandma’s stuff with goat cheese or crystallized ginger root until it magically fits our 21st century standards. Hell, let’s just pour a ton of rum or brandy on it, as originally intended. Enough liquor has the potential to cover the taste of roadkill.
Some people blame fruitcake’s bad rap more on comedians than on taste. Johnny Carson once joked, “The worst gift is a fruitcake. There is only one fruitcake in the entire world, and people keep sending it to each other” (7). Jim Gaffigan commented, “Fruit, good; cake, great; fruitcake, nasty crap” (8). Whatever the reason for its rap, maybe I should try it for the first time or revisit it. I honestly can’t remember which I’d be doing, and it’d only be fair to this article.
Collin Street Bakery swears by its fruitcake, describing it as “unexpectedly delicious” and thus acknowledging that not all versions are. I’ll put it on my bucket list. Wanna try, too? If you can’t bear fruitcake, take a look at the endless possibilities that you’ve yet to try or want to try again: Stilton cheese, purple figs, bubble tea, gazpacho, chocolate profiteroles. Life is pretty awesome even with a little bit of new. You don’t need to make it high-fat or low-fat, just different or nostalgic. Neither your kid nor your spouse nor your best friend has to eat it with you. They can, but it can also be just you and the food. Check to see if your food of choice raises your anxiety level a little. Check to see if it evokes any response. If you feel something when you’re eating it, you’re living. Enjoy the moment and, for goodness sake, don’t shovel it into your face, Sonya Thomas-style. Save that kind of energy for your championship title.
NEXT POST: READER CHALLENGE POLL: Mark ALL of the following that you have never had or have not had within the last year . . . Keep an eye out for it and join me in the challenge to try at least one new food item (not recipe, necessarily) each week. We can share our highs and lows.
If you have any further comment about this article, fruitcake, trying new foods, etc., I’d love to hear from you. If you want to stick up for fruitcake, join its Facebook page.