Nuttier Than a Fruitcake

What happened to the ubiquitous Christmas fruitcake of yesteryear? It was once such a popular gift item that Johnny Carson liked to quip: “There is one fruitcake in the world, and people keep sending it to each other.”

Published December 6, 2011 7:52 PM
3 min read

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fruitthumbWhat happened to the ubiquitous Christmas fruitcake of yesteryear? It was once such a popular gift item that Johnny Carson liked to quip: “There is one fruitcake in the world, and people keep sending it to each other.”

 

By Paul Hicks

 

What happened to the ubiquitous Christmas fruitcake of yesteryear? It was once such a popular gift item that Johnny Carson liked to quip: “There is one fruitcake in the world, and people keep sending it to each other.”

 

fruitIn those halcyon holiday seasons, connoisseurs of fruitcake would dispute whether the dark version was more delectable than the light (I preferred the light). Many, however, found it too densely packed with candied fruit.

 

One favorite solution was to soak the fruitcake with various types of spirits. Now, some of the mail-order bakeries sell fruitcakes that have been pre-soaked. The Trappist monks at Assumption Abbey in the Missouri Ozarks bake rum-infused cakes, and market them with the blessing that “rummier is yummier”. For online orders of their products, go to trappistmonks.com.

 

For many years our family ordered fruitcakes for ourselves and others from Collins Street Bakery in Corsicana, Texas. It has been operating since 1896 and ships more than one million cakes a year all over the world. Because of the growing aversion to an excess of candied fruit, they also sell cakes made mostly with nuts. One of the most popular is their Texas Blonde Pecan Cake (collinstreet.com).

 

There are a number of other traditional holiday baked goods if you are seeking alternatives to fruitcakes. One of the best is panettone, an Italian sweet loaf with raisins, candied fruit, and (sometimes) chestnuts, which had its origins in Milan. Its high-domed shape and light texture is due to the long process of curing the dough.

 

A number of panettone brands can be found this time of year in supermarkets, as well as specialty stores like the Tarry Market in Port Chester. The Williams-Sonoma catalog notes that in addition to serving their Scarpato panettone with coffee or tea, it makes “delightful French toast and a decadent bread pudding.”

 

If your ancestral roots or tastes run more to Germany than Italy, you might prefer to serve a traditional Christmas stollen, a sugar-dusted loaf-cake filled with dried fruit, nuts, and (often) marzipan. Dresden, the traditional home of stollen, holds an annual festival, which features a giant version.

 

It was also in Dresden that the royal governor once had to obtain permission from the Pope so bakers could use butter in making stollen during the Advent season. Of the many choices available, the Reimann Original Dresdner Stollen sold by Amazon sounds like an authentic choice.

 

No holiday treat has a longer history than Christmas (or plum) pudding. It dates back to Medieval England when the Catholic Church decreed that “it be made with thirteen ingredients for Christ and the Apostles, and that every family member stir it in an east to west direction to honor the Magi.”

 

As one food writer describes the pudding, “It consists of a lot of fresh and dried fruits, nuts, and an occasional splash of delicious mutton fat. Dark sugars and black treacle give Christmas pudding its attractive, blacker-than-night color, while brandy and dark beer are used to moisten it up a bit.”

 

If you want to have a real Dickens of a Christmas, order your Christmas pudding online from the English Tea Store at englishteastore.com. There are many different puddings shown on the website and, if you order one, don’t forget the hard sauce and/or clotted cream. For a Scottish treat, order Walker’s Glenfiddich Whiskey Cake on the same website.

 

On the night before Christmas this year you may find yourself dreaming not just about visions of sugar plums, but also of marzipan, brandy, clotted cream, and delicacies that are nuttier than a fruitcake.

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