Before it became the cliché of presents, the butt of seasonal jokes, the regifting option of choice, it was a treat of my boyhood: The fruitcake.
My father was a supervisor in a weaving mill who received gifts from salesmen as Christmas approached. Most were trinkets like key chains with company logos, maybe a paperweight (with a company logo). But the one we could always count on was a fruitcake. My mom was a great cook and baker, homemade biscuits every day and fried fruit pies as a special treat. But fruitcake was made in a factory, not at home, requiring the mysterious processing of dried, candied fruit which appeared to have no purpose other than to compose the principle ingredient in a sticky, dense, dark cake.
The typical fruitcake was a foot-long cuboid bearing the brand name Claxton. The fruit and nuts squeezed against the clear cellophane wrapping as though they would pop through, a concoction of bits of fruit dyed unnatural colors with the cake a mere mortar to hold them together. Of course, we weren’t allowed to tear into the cake until later, after a proper meal. So, the clear vestige remained above the breadbox teasing my brothers and me.
I was a hardy eater. So, cleaning my plate before the treat was no issue, and at last, the breaking of the seal was done. A one-inch slice was a dense delectable with the syrupiness of the candied fruit accented by the tart cake.
Analysis of food is, sometimes a mistake. Sure, we’ve improved nutritional values, become more aware of what’s good and bad, although those judgments have ebbed and flowed throughout my life. Even so, I doubt fruitcake will find it’s way into the mainstream unless some trendy boutique reinvents it as such establishments have done to the cupcake. I’m waiting.
As a guilty pleasure, the boy in me waits for Dad to bring home the fruitcake.