This is the common canard applied to fruitcakes, one which I never understood. My grandmother sent my family a fruitcake every year when I was growing up, and I thought it was delicious. It is still one of the taste-memories that I associate with winter holidays — that and store-bought eggnog, which Buzz considers to be nauseating since his family drank REAL eggnog. I was always rather confused and offended by the assertion that Grandma’s delicious cake was something best used as a paperweight. (I also didn’t quite grasp “nutty as a fruitcake” for some years, because her recipe didn’t use any.)
However, this year I made Grandma’s fruitcake (she’s now 87 and hasn’t been up to baking lots of cake for a few years) and gave it to some of my in-laws at Thanksgiving. And that’s when I learned about an old tradition which might help explain the scary fruitcake mythology.
Via my mother-in-law:
The top layer of my parent’s wedding cake was a fruitcake. They kept it for their twenty-fifth anniversary. I remember they got it out of the attic for the party.
My uncle’s family did that too, Helen’s brother — in fact, their cake was at our house for some reason. We got it out of our attic and sent it to them for their anniversary. Or we were going to, but when we got it out it was so disgusting we just threw it away.
I remember we had to have my parents’ cake soaking next to some steam overnight… it was so dried out and horrible. And even after soaking it was terrible, the frosting was all crusty and nasty.
At this point, Buzz and I suggested that perhaps this “keep the cake for 25 years” idea was just some crazy tradition in her family. We’d never heard of it before, and the only two couples she mentioned were related. But other relatives chimed in to mention that they’d heard of this, so apparently it’s not just a weird German-Canadian thing.
So if the average person’s experience of fruitcake was eating stale, rotting cake from decades past, I can’t blame them for deciding it was a horrible dessert.
Cartoon by Kev Brockschmidt. Used by permission.