When you are absolutely stumped about what to send your Aunt Eunice for Christmas (you know, the one who married beneath herself) try to resist the temptation to send her a fruitcake. There are excellent odds that Eunice has the same feelings about the holiday fruitcake that most Americans harbor: they think that eating fruitcake is just slightly more enjoyable than having a root canal.
Also, you have forgotten that, faced with the same problem last year, you came to the same conclusion. The first fruitcake is in a deep corner of her refrigerator, behind the faded orange package of baking soda, next to a shriveled eggplant that has become totally fossilized.
The first fruitcake is now dry as the Sahara and tastes like Purina dog chow, but Eunice is a frugal lady, and considers it in the category of “things too good to throw out.” She will try to revive the moribund fruitcake with a time-tested procedure that calls for liberally dousing it with some form of alcoholic beverage, including everything from a fine Amontillado sherry to a bottle of cheap muscatel. Eunice will pour one jigger on the cake, and take one swig for herself, until the general disposition of both will become considerably more mellow. Then the cake will be returned to its purgatory corner in the Fridgidaire, forgotten until next year.
The fruitcake made its first appearance in the legendary Garden of Eden, when Eve made Adam an offer he should have refused: “Hey, Big Guy; you wanna piece of fruitcake?” And that was the end of Paradise.
When the ancient Egyptians prepared their pharaohs for burial in the pyramids, they furnished the tombs with flasks of wine, grains, salted meats, and of course, fruitcakes. In 1922, when Howard Carter discovered King Tut's tomb, he found that the pharaoh had drunk all the wine and consumed all the foodstuffs—but the fruitcake was left untouched!
Some believe that the fruitcake was invented in Olde England, during the reign of Ethelred the Unready , or was it Rufus the Red? (So easy to confuse the two!) It was baked by his subjects and presented to his majesty with the hope that he would not demand his annual crippling taxes, but the ploy did not work so well; the king had the fruitcake stuffed into the ear of the messenger with the butt end of a pike, and taxes were increased by twenty percent.
Later, Eleanor of Aquitaine placed a fruitcake in the saddlebag of her son, Richard the Lionhearted, for his crusade to the Holy Land. After two years, it turned hard as a rock, and Richard put it into a catapult and fired it at a castle defended by Suleiman the Magnificent. The next day Suleiman fired it back with a note: “Stupid Crusaders! Muslims don't eat fruitcake! It's full of booze!”
Later the fruitcake made an appearance in the mystery of the Lost Colony of Virginia. Researchers believe that when the colonists served fruitcake to their Native American guests at Thanksgiving, the savages were so insulted that they wiped out the entire settlement, leaving not a single clue except a partial word carved on an oak tree: FRUITCA…
Fruitcakes are always appearing in the news. Last month, a British Air flight from London to Dulles had trouble with the plane's nose wheel. Dangerously low on fuel, the passengers were saved when a British grandmother donated her holiday fruitcake to the crew, who managed to exchange it for the faulty tire. After a safe landing the grandmother reclaimed her cake, brushed off the runway gravel, and served it for dinner.
It is important to understand that there are two kinds of fruitcake: dark fruitcake and light fruitcake. Place them in close proximity, and you will see that the dark fruitcake is much darker than the light fruitcake. Light fruitcake contains coconut, white raisins, and household bleach. Women who bake dark fruitcakes tend to vote Republican, wear sensible shoes, and stay married to the same husband for life. However, women who bake light fruitcakes vote for George McGovern, totter about on Jimmy Choos, and fool around a little bit. Think Nancy Regan versus Jane Fonda.
At least one bright entrepreneur has turned this antipathy of the public toward the fruitcake to her commercial advantage: Hattie Mae Clyde, proprietor of Hattie's Fruitcake Factory & Tax Preparation Service in Tupelo, Mississippi, discovered that it was totally unnecessary to spend so much money on sugar, fruit, pecans, etc. She began making her holiday fruitcakes with sawdust, Dr. Pepper, and a minimum of raisins, and advertised its high fiber content. She increased her profit margin tenfold and her orders from Japan quadrupled.
This is the first of three informative articles on the fruitcake. The next article will include helpful hints on how to dispose of your fruitcake when your hostess presses it upon you, and will include such stratagems as surreptitiously slipping it to her Irish wolfhound, or hiding it in her rubber plant.