When it comes to holiday gift-giving, your loved ones may not necessarily fit into the cookie-cutter categories found in typical holiday gift guides. What should you get them that shows you actually put some thought into it?
The time has come to say yes to fruitcake.
Even though this delicacy is often maligned, and even ridiculed, for its heft and long shelf life, there are certain types of people who might appreciate one this holiday season: traditionalists, long-distance travelers and comedy fans, for starters.
While some Grinches might disagree, what could be so wrong about a cake filled with delicious candied and dried fruits, nuts and sometimes a whole lot of booze?
Your special someone’s jaw may drop when they unwrap it, but maybe they’re just getting ready to dig in. Toss out some of these fun facts to fill the awkward silence. These folks will be duly impressed:
1. History buffs
Et tu, fruitcake? The fruitcake made its arrival as early as Roman times, when they were made with pomegranate seeds, raisins and pine nuts, according to What’s Cooking America. In the Middle Ages, bakers, or perhaps someone’s old aunt Hildegard, began tossing in preserved fruit.
Fast-forward to 1913 (some sources say 1914), when the concept of mail-order fruitcake began at the Collin Street Bakery in Corsicana, Texas, one of today’s leading fruitcake producers, which ships the cakes to 196 countries. Claxton, Georgia, home of two fruitcake companies, the Claxton Bakery and the Georgia Fruit Cake Co., calls itself the “Fruitcake Capital of the World.”
2. Comedy nuts
There has been a sleigh-full of jokes and gags about fruitcake over the years, especially on late-night television. “Tonight Show” host Johnny Carson posited that there is only one fruitcake in the world, and it keeps getting regifted from person to person each Christmas. Humorist and fruitcake expert Calvin Trillin wrote in the 1988 essay “A Fruitcake Theory” that “nobody in the United States has ever bought a fruitcake for himself.” Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show” featured Marie Rudisill, “The Fruitcake Lady,” as a recurring guest, and he tasted a 125-year-old fruitcake on camera in 2003.
3. Those with a competitive streak
The Great Fruitcake Toss contest in Manitou Springs, Colorado, includes bake-off and distance, speed and team toss categories. There is a catapult for those with less-than-stellar arm strength. The event, which began in the mid-1990s, was canceled for 2014 but returned in 2015. The 2016 toss is scheduled for January 30.
4. World travelers
A fruitcake by any other name is still a fruitcake. Many international cuisines have their own version of a cake studded with dried fruits (sometimes macerated in alcohol) and nuts, including stollen from Germany, the Italian panettone and black cake from Trinidad, Jamaica and other Caribbean countries. Although the ingredients differ, perhaps there’s also just one mooncake in China, a popular holiday gift that contains almost a full day’s calories.
The traditional British wedding cake is similar to what we uncivilized Americans know as a fruitcake. A slice from the cake Prince William and Duchess Catherine chose for their 2011 wedding cost $7,500 at auction in December 2014. A 65-year-old piece of his grandparents Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip’s wedding cake brought in $2,730through Christie’s in September 2013. Maybe this one had fewer nuts, to account for the lower price tag.
6. Backpackers and outdoor enthusiasts
The mighty fruitcake laughs at the thought of refrigeration and the risk of spoilage. This is one reason backpackers and hikers like to take along slices for easy snacking. Another is the nutritional value of the dried fruit and nuts inside, which contain potassium, iron and protein for quick energy boosts.
7. Marriage-minded singles
In the late 1800s, young adults who were single and ready to mingle would put a piece of fruitcake under their pillows, believing they would dream about their future spouses that night. (For this category, you may want to also give them a backup gift.)
8. Antiques aficionados or ‘Hunger Games’ addicts
The density of a piece of fruitcake is equal to the density of mahogany, a type of wood used for furniture, according to a “Harper’s Index” from December 1991. Capitol liaison Effie Trinket in the “Hunger Games” movies, played by Elizabeth Banks, especially values mahogany, delivering meme-tastic lines like “Here is the library, all mahogany.” Diana Ross fans may also be on board, if they enjoyed her 1975 movie of the same name.
9. Political junkies
A piece of President Grover Cleveland’s wedding cake is on display at his birthplace, a state historic site in Caldwell, New Jersey. He was the only president to get married in the White House, wedding 21-year-old Frances Folsom in 1886. Cleveland is also the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms, elected in 1884 and 1892. America’s only president elected to four terms, Franklin D. Roosevelt, serving from 1932 to 1945, also enjoyed fruitcake. (Are you reading this, 2016 candidates?)
10. Space cadets
Pineapple fruitcake was along for the ride on the first manned spaceflight to the moon in 1969. The dessert was left uneaten by Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. These days, it is on display in the “Apollo to the Moon” exhibition at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington.
11. Fans of campy movies
John Waters, the director of campy cult-classic films like “Pink Flamingos,” “Polyester” and “Hairspray,” worked on a children’s Christmas movie, “Fruitcake,” for several years as a pet project. Johnny Knoxville and Parker Posey came on board in 2008 to star, but the movie has not been accepted by a studio.