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Articles & Essays

"Holy fruitcake! Maybe this isn't a nutty idea"

Published 12/04/11
The News & Observer (Raleigh, NC)

The approach of the holidays means it’s, once again, fruitcake-bashing season. Which some people would like to do with a hockey stick.

It’s a stressful time for those like me, who must endure the jeers and stares of snarkers when we admit that, yes, we like fruitcake.

For all the insults and groaning about fruitcake, there’s a lot of it around. Someone must be eating it. There can’t be that many poorly constructed doors in this country which require something to hold them open, as the haters say.

There’s fruitcake everywhere. There are the well-known fruitcake producers. Southern Supreme Fruitcake in Chatham County produces a cake that’s heavy on the nuts. You can find Collin Street Bakery fruitcake in Texas and beyond, and the ubiquitous Claxton Fruitcake from Georgia practically to the moon. 

I always knew there were more fruitcakes in the South than in other parts of the country.

What surprised me was the high number of religious establishments which are in the fruitcake-baking business.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Trappist Abbey in Lafayette, Ore. and Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville, Va. sell fruitcake. Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Ga. offers Monk’s Fruitcakes that are baked, and soaked in peach brandy and sherry, under the direction of “our master fruitcake-baker, Brother Patrick,” according to the monastery’s web site.

Kentucky is a holy hotbed of fruitcake. Gethsemani Abbey touts its Kentucky bourbon fruitcake (it makes bourbon fudge, too, if you need chocolate with your alcohol).

The web site for Assumption Abbey in the Ozark Mountains claims that its fruitcake recipe was developed by a chef who worked for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. There’s no fruitcake like a royal fruitcake, I always say.

I found many of these fruitcakes, along with Prayerfully Popped Candy Cane Popcorn and Nun Better Cookies, at Monastery Greetings (, which offers foods and other items made at monasteries, convents, abbeys and hermitages.

I can see only one possible reason for this bounty of blessed baked goods: Fruitcake is God’s chosen cake. 

Look at the evidence. These abbeys and monasteries are not selling angel food cakes. They certainly would never traffic in devil’s food cakes. Fruitcake sales keep the religious retreats running.

But, wait; there’s more. Consider a traditional, and widely maligned, fruitcake ingredient, citron. Yes, the cubes of pale green things you see in your standard-issue fruitcake. (No, not the alien-invader-green maraschino cherries, which even I find disturbing.)

I assure you that citron is a completely legitimate fruit. According to the Purdue University Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, citron grows in areas including the Caribbean, Puerto Rico, Sicily, Corsica and Crete. The fruit, which looks like an oval yellow sponge, is highly fragrant.

In Asian countries, a kind of citron called buddha’s hand, which resembles a yellow monkey paw, is placed on temple altars as an offering. 

Which leads me to a variety of citron called etrog, which is grown in Israel. Practically back to the time of Moses, the etrog has been the official citron of the Jewish holiday Sukkot, a fall harvest festival.

So, citron is honored in three different religious traditions. Because citron is in fruitcake, that makes the cake an interfaith treat, which covers the country like sweet stairsteps (round or rectangular) to heaven.

I believe fruitcake is not a divider, but a uniter. Put down the hockey sticks and listen for its sticky little voice of peace.

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