Christmas classic has long history of jokes, enjoyment
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Gunnison resident Bob Corn knows just what he’s getting his sister for Christmas. It’s fruitcake. But it’s not just any fruitcake — it’s one that has been passed among family members for two decades.

“It’s been a fun little tradition, and it’s lasted a lot longer than we thought it would,” said Corn. “It’s sitting in my freezer right now.”

Corn recalls how the tradition started. It was 1982, and Corn was living in Denver. He said he saw the ugliest fruitcake he had ever seen at the local grocery story — it was in the shape of a brick. 

He purchased it and sent it to his brother. The brother called to give Corn grief about the gift, so Corn suggested the brother keep the fruitcake in the freezer and send it to their sister the following year. The tradition lasted 15 years.

“After a while it got so you knew when you were going to get it,” Corn said. “After the first year we didn’t even open it. We just rewrap it with paper, so it’s getting bigger.”

The fruitcake went missing for a few years until a family member sold a house and cleaned out his refrigerator. Then the tradition continued once again.

“I’m afraid to look at it,” Corn continued. “I’d be scared to unwrap it.”

Like it or hate it, fruitcake is unlikely to go away anytime soon. In fact, the nutty, fruity Christmas classic  — often made with alcohol and a high concentration of sugar — has had its highs and lows over centuries of its existence. The earliest recipes date back to ancient Rome, but it is believed the Egyptians made fruit cake to place in tombs, sending their loved ones off into the afterlife with a snack.

Fruitcake proliferated throughout Europe, and was often called “plum cake” in the United Kingdom. American colonists commonly made fruitcake because they knew the sugar and alcohol preserved the fruits for long periods of time. Even today, most culinary experts agree that fruitcake can last for years and still be safely eaten.

But the concoction may have become more of a holiday joke when television show host Johnny Carson proclaimed in 1989 that the worst holiday gift was a fruitcake. Even today, Manitou Springs, Colo., hosts an annual fruitcake tossing event. This year’s 23rd annual fruitcake toss will be held Jan. 25, 2020 — a month after Christmas.

Still, some Gunnison Valley residents actually enjoy eating the holiday treat. One of them is Garlic Mike’s restaurant owner Michael Busse.

Busse doesn’t recall the first time he ate the candied bread. He said he’s liked it for as long as he can remember. Growing up in a family of seven, he was the only one who liked fruitcake, and it became something he could have for himself and not have to share.

“It’s more of a texture thing,” said the chef. “The nuttier and fruiter, the better. If a small fruitcake doesn’t weigh as much as a brick, it’s not a good fruitcake.”

Busse said he cuts off a small slice about a half-inch thick and smears whipped cream cheese on it. Fruitcake, he said, is best eaten with a hot cup of coffee.

Only one other member of his family — his father-in-law — also enjoys fruitcake. Busse said he’s built a “very special tradition” of eating the dessert with his father-in-law each year. 

In an attempt to extend that tradition, Busse recently made his son, Matty, sit with his grandfather to sample the fare. Busse said his son reported that the fruitcake tasted like a popular craft store.

“The only thing that came to mind is antique store, or craft store — the texture and flavor are just not there for me,” said Matty Busse, bewildered that his father loves fruitcake so much. “He’s a chef and likes fruitcake, and it doesn’t make much sense to me.”

 

(Chris Rourke can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or at chris.rourke@gunnisontimes.com.)

 

OLD-FASHIONED FRUITCAKE RECIPE

Ingredients:

> 1 cup butter, softened 

> 2 1/2 cups sugar 

> 6 eggs 

> 2 teaspoons brandy flavoring, or brandy

> 4 cups all-purpose flour 

> 1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 

> 1 teaspoon nutmeg 

> 1 teaspoon salt 

> 1 1/2 pounds ready mix candied fruit 

> 1 pound seedless raisins 

> 3/4 pound candied pineapple 

> 3/4 pound whole candied cherries 

> 2 cups pecan halves 

> Garnish: light corn syrup and pecan halves

Directions:

In a large bowl, beat butter, sugar and eggs with an electric mixer until fluffy, adding eggs one at a time until yolk disappears. Stir in flavoring. Next, sift together next four ingredients and mix thoroughly with butter and egg mixture. Work the fruit and nuts into batter with hands. Grease and flour a 19-inch tube pan. Finally, fill pan 2/3 full with batter. Bake at 275 degrees for three hours. One-half hour before cake is done, brush top with corn syrup. Decorate with pecan halves and finish baking. Cool. If desired, place cake, wrapped in a wine-soaked cloth, in an airtight container. Store in a cool place for several weeks; this blends and mellows the cake.

Recipe courtesy Gooseberry Patch for myrecipes.com.