Column: What would you do with a 97-year-old fruitcake?

Around this time of year, Christmas cake or fruitcake can be found in almost every grocery store in Fruitcake
North America — and in many other parts of the world. Some people even go to the trouble of making it at home. “Fruitcake is like no other treat,” a 78-year-old Chicago woman said. “I like to serve it to my guests at Christmas. And when they’ve left, I put it back in the box for next year.”

Though I’ve often made jokes about it, I do buy fruitcake occasionally, especially when I’m trying to get my kids to eat something. “You’d better eat your vegetables,” I say, “or I’ll make you eat some fruitcake.” It works like a charm.

The fruitcake does eventually get eaten. When you’re hungry, you can’t be too picky. At least that’s what I say to the neighbor’s dog.

I’m kidding, of course. I don’t have to say anything to the dog. Like most dogs, he’ll eat just about anything that looks remotely like food, which may explain why there’s a big hole in the fence. It comes in handy, of course. I throw the fruitcake through it. And he throws it back. Then he realizes it might be food, jumps through the hole and takes a bite. Then he pauses, looking at me suspiciously with an expression that says, “Are you sure this is food? It’s soft and chewy, but not quite as tasty as the fence.”

Truth be told, my wife and I do eat some fruitcake ourselves. We like to have it with our tea, whenever we want the kids to give us some time to ourselves. What’s great about fruitcake is that it has a long shelf life. The fruitcake we’ve bought this year will be good until the year 2098. My great-grandchildren would be able to feed it to their dogs.

I’m not sure how the fruitcake would taste after 90 years, but it would definitely survive, as long as it’s made well. If you don’t believe me, just check out the 97-year-old fruitcake that a Minnesota man named Pierre Girard owns.  According to an article in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the cake is “hard as a rock” and “has a slight scent of spice,” which means that it’s somewhat like a heavyweight boxer from India.

Girard’s neighbor Sue Riley described the cake as “really ugly.” It may be ugly, but how does it taste? That’s what I want to know. I’m not volunteering to taste it though, not unless it’s the last piece of food in the world, in which case Oprah would beat me to it.

Girard got the fruitcake from a couple of friends, who found it in a house. It was in a box with an inscription stating that it was baked in December 1911. It had belonged to an elderly woman who had died with no heirs, which is really a pity, because who wouldn’t love to inherit a fruitcake?

Lawyer: “Thank you all for coming here today. I’m sure you all want to know about the 97-year-old fruitcake.”

Teen-ager: “Hey, that’s no way to talk about my great-grandma!”

Lawyer: “I’m talking about an actual 97-year-old fruitcake. Your great-grandma left it for you and your cousins. She wants each of you to have a slice.”

Teen-ager: “No!!! We’ll eat our veggies! We promise!”

According to “The Joy of Cooking,” fruitcakes can last up to 25 years “when they are well-saturated with alcoholic liquors, which raise the spirits and keep down molds.”

Yes, liquor helps preserve fruitcakes. Please take that only as a cooking tip — not medical advice.

Photo by Matthew Bietz

If you enjoyed this piece, you'll love Melvin's novel Bala Takes the Plunge, available in North America through Amazon.com and McNallyRobinson.com You can also find it at major bookstores in India and Sri Lanka or online at FlipKart, IndiaPlaza, FriendsofBooks or other sites. A number of readers have written reviews of the novel. An excerpt of the novel can be read here.

Comments

  1. Melvin,
    It’s nice to know that someone else shares my vision of fruitcake.
    Have you tried shoo-fly pie? It’s a Pennsylvania Dutch delicacy that rivals
    fruitcake for it’s appeal.
    You’ve got to try it and write a column on it.
    One taste and you say – “You’re kidding, this is really mud pie, right?”.
    (via email)

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