Holiday fruitcake: Delectable treat or tired, tough tradition?
What’s your gut reaction? “Ew” or “yum”?
“I don’t like them. And I get a fruitcake every year from someone,” said Missy Wolff, a twenty-something employee at Longs Drugs at Bijou Center.
Fruitcake has a varied reputation, but still manages to hang on as a holiday tradition. Many in the older generation regard it as a tasty treat. But among young folks, the complicated confections have a bad rap as a dry Christmas anachronism that works better as a decoration or a joke gift.
Sharon Rusk has an 18-year-old fruitcake, made by her Aunt Mabel, who has since passed away. The fruitcake has made the rounds of her family for nearly two decades.
“They say there’s only one fruitcake, it just gets passed around to everybody,” Rusk joked from her home in Stateline.
Making fun of fruitcake is as much of a tradition now as giving a fruitcake.
“Years ago, everybody made fruitcake and everybody ate fruitcake and it became a joke,” said Fern Riley, 78, the creator of Tahoe’s own traditional cheeseballs, a yearly fund-raiser for Barton Auxiliary. “They don’t grow mold because they become all dried out and become like hardtack.”
Riley thinks fruitcakes have fallen from grace because they are time-consuming and expensive to make well.
While she likes them, she prefers making peanut brittle for friends and family as a holiday tradition.
These mysterious pastries have a history dating back hundreds of years in Europe, said Guido Landolt, head pastry chef for Caesars Tahoe.
“In Europe, Santa Claus comes on Dec. 6. He didn’t bring you a big present or a computer or anything. He usually dropped off edible stuff, including fruitcake and gingerbread,” Landolt said.
The chef believes fruitcake has a better reputation on the far side of the Atlantic, although he’s sold almost all the cakes he made for Caesars for the holidays.
To make the best fruitcake, the dried fruit should be marinated in liquor – brandy or rum, or both – for at least a month. Then the recipe is quite simple, Landolt said.
Even if you don’t like the taste, one thing to be said for the fruitcake is it does a good job of encapsulating holiday colors.
“It’s almost like a kaleidoscope of colors when you cut into it, the different fruit and dark raisins,” said Riley.