The fruitcake gene


‘You either have it, or you don’t’

Have you ever heard someone say ‘Fruitcake isn’t my favorite, but that sure looks tasty’? Or ‘A slice of fruitcake might make a nice change from pie’? No. It’s usually more like ‘Fruitcake! Blechhh. I hate fruitcake’.

Fruitcake is so frowned-upon that there are even jokes about it. You’ve heard the one about there really only being one fruitcake in existence? That it just keeps getting re-gifted? And there is the ‘fruitcake’ pictured at the top of this post. It will ‘never ever get stale’. Basically because you blow it up like a whoopee cushion. And then you don’t eat it.

The 'Fruitcake they'll actually want to get', seen as served. At least you won't have to wash the plate

‘Serving suggestion’ for the ‘fruitcake that never gets stale’. At least you never have to wash the plate

But I have a confession to make. I love fruitcake. As long as it’s my mother’s fruitcake.

I once told The Dude, when I spied a fruitcake tin at his parents’ house, ‘Gee, I really like fruitcake. Can I have some?’ Big mistake. Somebody probably gave his parents that fruitcake for their first Christmas, and they forgot to regift it.

But Mom’s fruitcake actually gets eaten. Even fought over. At least by those of us who got the Fruitcake Gene.

That’s because it’s mostly fruit and pecans sort of stuck together — with none of that cakey stuff that gets so stale and off-putting. (Oh, and it’s got brandy. What’s not to like about brandy?)

When we were kids in Carlyle, Illinois, we got the pecans from our own pecan tree. The fact that it was indeed ‘our’ pecan tree was disputed by a few other pecan-lovers in our town, because the tree actually grew in that strip of yard between the sidewalk and the street which was owned by ‘The Town’. But, hey. We never saw The Town out there mowing that strip or raking leaves off it, so we claimed it — and its pecan tree — as ours.

Mom told me that she would often pull into our driveway only to find one of her fellow Townspeople harvesting (i.e., ‘stealing’) our pecans. She couldn’t happen but notice that one particular pecan gatherer (a retired police chief, no less) didn’t confine himself to picking up only the pecans that had dropped on the ‘owned by The Town’ strip of yard. Uh-uh. When interviewed for this piece, Mom remarked about this Shall-be-Nameless Guy, ‘He was a real jerk, may he rest in peace.’

Anyway. When she’d wrestled enough pecans away from the neighbors, she’d put us to work. We kids would sit around on the floor in front of the TV, shelling away over big sheets of newspaper (The Union Banner or the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, most likely) while watching ‘Bonanza’ or ‘Hullabaloo’ or maybe even ‘I Spy’.

You can get Mom’s fruitcake recipe, which is almost as fun to make as watching ‘Get Smart’, even if you don’t like fruitcake, by clicking here: Mom’s Fruitcake Recipe

Now let’s talk a bit about the Eating of the Fruitcake. This came after a big Peterson Christmas Feast featuring turkey and the trimmings, plus traditional Swedish Holiday fare like lutefisk, which was kind of like Scandinavian ceviche. The Times once ran a front-page article about lutefisk and how ‘aromatic’ it was (among other things), in response to which I wrote this letter:

To the Editor:

Re ”Forget Eggnog; Bring the Lye-Cured Cod” (front page, Dec. 25):

One solution to the lingering smell of lutefisk is to prepare it as my Swedish grandmother did: bury the fish in the middle of a big bowl of egg custard (yes, really!), which is then baked, complete with nutmeg on top, and served with the rest of the traditional Swedish Christmas dishes (korv, a sausage, is one, but that’s another story).

This takes care of the smell and also provides lots of entertainment at the table as new non-Swedish members of the family dig eagerly into the bowl of custard to find a fishy surprise.


Amagansett, N.Y., Dec. 25, 2002

I would say that the bowl in front of Doug contained the lutefisk, but he's digging into it, so perhaps it's the creamed corn

I would say that the bowl in front of Doug contained the ‘fishy surprise’, but the look on his face tells me it’s probably the creamed corn

No matter how you feel about fruitcake, it’s going to sound pretty darned good after dodging a bowl of lutefisk. And the fact that we nibbled on this confection while opening presents and playing games like Scrabble didn’t hurt. Deliciousness by association, you know. Now, I know I already shared this photo with you (in my story ‘The Smarts against the Dumbs’) but this particular shot has a plate with fruitcake on it right there in the foreground:

A Christmas Eve 'Scrab' in full swing. Note serious expressions and plate of fruitcake in the foreground

A Christmas Eve Scrabble match in full swing. Note serious expressions as well as just-visible plate with a sliver of fruitcake still there (!)

That’s Aunt Shirley and my Mom and Me and my Gramma P, all of whom shared the ‘fruitcake gene’. Gramma, incidentally, is no doubt drinking Silver Tea, another tasty Swedish specialty. Mom said her brothers ‘didn’t care for fruitcake’, which is polite for ‘they hated it’. My Personal Brother Roger and his wife Nobody-Doesn’t-Like-Jenn are also Fruitcake Haters. This doesn’t bother Mom. She just says ‘that means more for the rest of us’, and sends them fudge instead.

Confession. I’m the only one in my family who got the Fruitcake Gene. The Dude and The Child both being Fruitcake Haters. So, to keep from inhaling my loaf (mailed faithfully to me every Christmas Season by the afore-mentioned Mom), I cut it into slices, which I then zip into those little snack bags and freeze for dignified portion-control. Though in desperation, usually late at night, I’ve been known to pilfer a piece and suck on it frozen.

New York City. December 2015


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

36 thoughts on “The fruitcake gene

  1. Ellen

    Bricks & “boughten” fruitcakes – all the same to me, but Myrna’s homemade recipe sounds great. Wish we had a pecan tree!

  2. My husband loves Fruitcake and actually turned me onto it. Our preferred way of eating it is as a breakfast food, fried in a pan with butter! It’s delicious and oh, so bad for us. I’ll have to show him your mother’s recipe!

  3. Unbound Roots

    I’ve never really like fruitcake, but I would love to try your mother’s! Also, potatiskorv is a staple in our family. Once a year, my mother and her siblings get together to make several batches which are then split between them. Potatiskorv is then served at Christmas and for other special meals throughout the year.

    • You just might like my mother’s fruitcake, but then you might not (!) And she wouldn’t mind one bit (as she says, “that means more for the rest of us!) As for potatiskorv, is that what we called ‘korv’? If it is, then I love that too!

  4. What a wonderful memory. It brought back some of my memories of my grandma and her wonderful Christmas goodies. I might just have to start a tradition with our family on making Christmas goodies. Hmm….Thanks for the idea!

  5. I too have the fruit cake gene. I absolutely love it and will eat it at any time of the year! I am gutted I have not gotten round to making one this year for Christmas though!

    • Why thanks for the comment, Carla! And, hey, there’s still time to rustle up some fruitcake. Use my Mom’s recipe. It’s easy and tasty. And you don’t even need to have your own pecan tree. Merry Christmas, and come back any time!

  6. Alice, I only stay on FB because you are on it. Well, that may be a bit of an exaggeration but I truly do appreciate good writing and great humor and you have those down. It is so nice to find people like you on there. We all need to lighten up a bit but if we eat war cake, we will not.

    • How flattering, Judy! So glad you stick with me and my writing. One of my missions is to help keep things light. If we can’t see the humor in our world, then all the cake in the world won’t help us. Speaking of FB, they had one of those silly features recently where you found the person you were ‘most compatible with’. And guess who I got? I guess we’re destined to be friends (!)

  7. I like a good fruitcake. A good plum pudding even better. God, I hate ceviche so it follows that I would not eat lutefisk under any circumstances. My grandmother made something called “war cake”, Alice, a dark cake full of raisins and molasses. Only later, when I got the recipe, did I notice that it also contained lard. She would send us a tin every Christmas. It was called war cake because it could be sent overseas during WWII and not go bad. Well, that is my contribution to your much more interesting blog.

    • Judy! Your comment made me laugh out loud! Partly because your story of the war cake was just so amazing. And partly because YOU are just so amazing. I don’t know what I’d do without you. xoxo

  8. Sharon McGavin

    I love this post. I got the fruitcake gene too. Like you, the only fruitcake I ever liked was my mother’s. Maybe because I’m from Michigan, my mother’s recipe sounds a LOT like your mother’s including that the nuts were pecans and the whole experience is about the fruit and nuts, not the dough. I have the little pans and the inspiration, but somehow, not her recipe. You can’t imagine how happy I am to adopt your mother’s.

    • Aw, shucks Sharon. So glad I could provide you with a nice reading experience AND a fruitcake recipe! It’s really fun to do with kids. The mixing-with-the-hands part is a big hit!

  9. Jenn

    I LOVE your mom’s cookies, fudge, caramel corn, and rice krispie treats that she sends us at Christmas.I know that Rog has the non-fruitcake gene, but I would like to give it another try!

    • Yes, aren’t Mom’s treats the BEST? I look forward to that package so much every year. I never get a chance to try the caramel corn, not if The Child is at home. And Wayne usually demolishes the fudge. You might want to give Fruitcake another chance. But it’s really okay if you don’t take to it. Some of my favorite people (The Dude, The Child) are Fruitcake Haters. xoxoxo

  10. ‘He was a real jerk, may he rest in peace.’ Sounds just like M! I also do the “slice and freeze” with the loaf of cardamon bread Mom gives me from the church bazaar every year!

  11. Ruth Meisenheimer

    I stopped and told your neighbor, V.H., that those pecans were the Henry’s, but he went right ahead picking up! By the way, your Mom thinks scrabble goes with everything!?

    • Yes, Mom told me about that darned V.H. But the ‘retired police chief’ was another pecan thief entirely — who didn’t even live in our neighborhood (!) And yes, Mom is right. Scrabble does go with everything. xoxo

I'd love to hear from you