Today, according to my Yahoo home page, is National Eat Fruitcake day, which will be followed shortly by National Toss the Fruitcake day. There was a picture of a woman, her face wrinkled alarmingly, deigning to sort of sniff at a bit of cake.
Why do people hate fruitcake so? My theory is that they’ve never had the good stuff. I was talking to a friend about this the other day. “It’s the fruit—it’s weird, un-natural colours,” she explained. So, I said, you never ever eat processed cheese product? No day-glo orange Kraft macaroni dinners?
She did not exactly have the grace to blush.
Why this irrational fear of green food colouring? I don’t know. I don’t think it’s any more scary than hot dogs, or Cheez Whiz, or frosting that comes ready made, or m’n’m’s.
As the daughter of a Welsh mother who was an accomplished baker, I have never understood this mockery of fruitcakes. British fruitcake is dark and moist, packed with fruit and eggs and usually some brandy or whiskey, made a month in advance and left to develop and intermingle the rich flavors and heady scents.
When Donn and I married, we had two cakes—one an American one, poppyseed with raspberry filling, not too sweet, stacked layers with stargazer lilies cascading down. The other was made by a Welsh friend, a poet with both words and ingredients. It had a dozen eggs and an entire bottle of brandy in it, and was topped with marzipan and royal icing, and then a spray of flowers from my Welsh cousin’s wedding cake a few years earlier.
People LOVED it. Literally years after my wedding, friends would spontaneously say, “That cake you had at your wedding was so good. I’d never had anything like it.” They didn’t mean the poppyseed either.
I also make something called Welsh cakes, which are a sort of griddle scone made with dried fruit. I have served these to people from all over the world and everyone likes them. More people like them than like chocolate chip cookies, in my experience. They contain the same “weird” (to quote my friend) colours of fruit as a fruitcake, but they don’t carry the baggage.
Every year my mother made a Christmas cake, along with mince pies and coconut pies and other traditional British goods. (She didn’t make shortbread, being Welsh not Scottish, but we had a Scottish friend who would bring us a pan for Hogmanay every New Year’s. I miss those days.) I make mince pies that are as good as hers, if I say so myself, but I never got her recipe for fruitcake, and now it’s gone.
This year, however, a friend brought round a plate of homemade goodies for us (I wrote “for me” at first, but I did share them) that included something she called a “white fruitcake.” I was skeptical at first, because I like the dark kind, but it turned out to be lemon; moist and tart and rich and sooo good. She had the traditional dark fruitcake too, PLUS some homemade figgy pudding. We intended to pour brandy over it and light it and eat it with custard, but we accidentally sort of nibbled it away. Her dark fruitcake was as good as Mum’s, so I’m getting her recipe for next year.
Where do you fall in the fruitcake wars? ( I warn you that I will only take you seriously if you have tried British fruitcake. )