Food Matters – Fruitcake: Love it or Hate it?

If you are a lover of fruitcake, and maybe even make your own, you likely have some carefully wrapped and aging in a cool spot, waiting to be sliced when holiday festivities begin in earnest. Or, if you hate fruitcake, you’re thinking about using any gift of cake you receive this year as a doorstop. I presented both sides of the story on this week’s edition of Food Matters with Jo-Ann Roberts on CBC Radio Victoria.

I am firmly on the side of loving a good, dark, nicely aged fruitcake. My aunts made the fruitcakes in our family. I loved the dark ones, but would always pass on the light ones because I thought they were too dry or crumbly. But I’m willing to try any fruit cake at least once. Then there are others who don’t want anything to do with fruit cake…

I put this question of loving or hating fruitcake on my Facebook account, knowing it would stir up some debate, and I wasn’t disappointed. Here’s a sampling of what some of the haters said:

Yuck! I honestly don’t get it. Thick, overly sweet, full of weird fruit, nasty, brutish ugh. Seriously, is it some kind of food joke?

 I can tolerate it, barely, as long as it doesn’t have candied fruit. That stuff makes me hurl.

Hate it. Reminds me too much of Rob Ford.

 I have no idea why people like fruitcake!

 In my early 20’s, I attempted to replicate baking a great cake I had tasted, for a boyfriend. I spent about $80 bucks on very fancy ingredients…and I’m pretty sure he still gave it to his Aunt Bertha, or used it as a door-stop. After that, I divorced fruitcake, along with the boyfriend.

But then I also had some very nice stories and memories, like these:

Love it! My mom would make it in the traditional style – soaking it in rum for a couple months before Christmas. Haters have never had real fruitcake. It should not be made with green and red square bits of fake fruit.

The boozier the better – and it has to have REAL fruit, not the scary neon green stuff.

Love it. But it has to made right – butter, sugar, spices, good quality dried fruit soaked in rum, and not over-baked.

 Love them! Also love brandy soaked Christmas Cake with schillings embedded! Everyone in the family has to take a turn at stirring for good luck!

I heard from a few people who talked about that idea of the shilling being baked into the cake and whoever got that piece when the cake was cut was in for some good luck. And over and over again I heard from people who said, ‘it has to be well-made with quality ingredients and properly baked and aged.’ A lot of that so-called candied fruit and peel is actually made from turnip or rutabaga, and who knows what kind of chemicals they put in some fruits to make them that bright colour many people despise. If you see a cake in a store that is labelled ‘Holiday Cake’, it means it doesn’t actually have fruit in it, but dyed vegetables instead.

I brought in some fruitcakes for Jo-Ann to taste, which all have stories. I think the most amazing story goes with the cake dipped in brandy, wrapped in cheesecloth, then parchment paper, then foil.  This cake was from the Harbourside Rotary Club of Victoria, which bakes over a thousand fruitcakes every year as a fundraiser. Usually they sell out, but as of airtime today they still have about 160 left. Email Ann Moscow at amoskow at shaw dot ca to see if they have any left. They only have the 750-gram dark cakes left at $25 each. They expect to raise about $17 thousand dollars this year which will be used to fund their various charitable projects.

Ramona Froehle-Schact also offered up a sample of her cake. Ramona is the founder of the Out of Hand Craft Fair which takes place next week in Victoria. She never has time before the show to make a fruit cake, but she made one last year following the fair, and unearthed one out of her freezer for me today. I thought it was great.

For people who just cannot get their heads into fruitcake, I brought in some panforte, a dense, chewy, Italian treat from Saison Café and Bakery in North Cowichan. Or you could try some stollen from any number of local European bakeries. Still contains dried fruit and usually a marzipan core, and is more breadlike. And soon the locally-made panettones from bakeries in Victoria will start hitting the shelves.

I’ll post some favourite fruitcake recipes here tomorrow. You know, if you start this weekend you might still get a bit of nice aging for the cake before Christmas.

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1 Response to Food Matters – Fruitcake: Love it or Hate it?

  1. Jean McIntosh says:

    I always perk up my ears when I hear about fruitcake. 2 Questions for you: I use my Dad’s recipe in which we soak the fruit mixture in rum and brandy before it goes in the cake. Once the cakes are made, in October, they are wrapped in foil til Christmas. I always hear about soaking the cake. If I want to try doing that, do you think I just pour brandy over these cakes then wrap differently, or would I need to use a different recipe or make nay other changes? Also, I am always looking for a good source of fruit. I use the candied type my Dad used and years ago we always bought it at Galloways in Vancouver . Late years I am at a bit of a loss for a foolproof source for great quality fruit. Thoughts? best, Jean (Port Alberni)

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