Wendy Wethington holds one of the fruitcakes she made
at Critchfield Meats in Lexington, Ky.
you hear the joke about fruitcake?
can pick just about any one, but Johnny Carson is widely
credited with administering the comic punt that haunts
fruitcakes to this day: His joke was that there was only one
fruitcake in the world, and it kept getting passed around as
jokes continue: She hated his family so much she gave them:
your new doorstop made of? Fruitcake!
definitely remember the crumble of those cheap cakes in my
mouth, which seemed to be much more cake than fruit and
always a little bit on the stale side," Betty Givan of
Richmond, proprietor of Betty’s Kitchen on YouTube, said
in an email.
the years that have passed since I shared the loathing of
the boxed gifted fruitcake, I have learned that when
fruitcake is dense with dried fruits that have been soaked
in fruit juice or liqueur, and the cake batter is just
enough to hold the fruits and nuts together, it is a
terrific blend and a beautiful addition to a holiday table.
when it is homemade, it can be one of the best-tasting
of the jokers clearly had never tasted a good fruitcake, or
at least not an authentic fruitcake. It’s like saying that
if you hate coffee after having purchased a cup of scalded
brew at a roadside gas station, you’d never like
Givens of Lexington is one of those who still loves
Givens, 66, was younger, her mother made six types of
fruitcake a season, including an uncooked fruitcake.
wasn’t as good, but it wasn’t bad," Givens said of
the uncooked variety.
"is such a wonderful warm part of my childhood. It made
me sad that over the years that fruitcakes got such a bad
reputation," Givens said. "They just don’t
last few decades, fruitcake hate has become so cool it’s
almost not cool anymore.
comes with some serious history: Preserved fruit was used
during times and in areas where fresh fruit was unavailable.
In Appalachia in the early 20th century, fresh fruit was
often a treat. Oranges were especially prized, and often
given in Christmas stockings; preserved fruit was more
common, and cooks worked with what they had.
legendary density hearkens back to English boiled puddings.
It also means you can slice the cake thinly — ideal for
making a long-lasting dessert economical.
of which, fruitcake was the wedding cake of choice at Prince
William and Kate Middleton’s little nuptials party, and
English wedding planner Sarah Haywood sniffed at the alleged
American distaste for spicy, fruity cake in an interview
with People magazine. "Americans do not get
fruitcake," she said.
making is a big business in Kentucky. In many places it is
carefully concocted, lovingly baked and often soaked with
just a little bit of bourbon (substitute rum or brandy if
the cake part is important, there doesn’t have to be a lot
of it. The cake carries the flavors of the other elements
and keeps the dessert from being super sweet, which is a
risk you run if you’re using great quantities of dried and
Betty’s Kitchen channel, Givan only uses about a cup of
self-rising flour in her recipe — but she has a pound of
pecans, plus 1/4-pound of candied green cherries, 1/4-pound
candied red cherries, a pound of dates and 1/2-pound of
candied sliced pineapple. Her fruitcake is alcohol-free,
although her bourbon pecan cake gets a light cheesecloth
soak in bourbon. Givan also offers a recipe for fruitcake
deciding whether you want a teetotaler’s cake or a cake
either lightly touched or genuinely soaked in alcohol —
some recipes call for not only a cheesecloth full of rum or
brandy tossed over the cake, but a good strong pour down its
center — you also have to decide a critical visual
question: How about those green cherries?
fruitcake consumers find the neon green tint of candied
cherries off-putting; they are pretty much the opposite of
organic. Wendy Wethington, the baker at Critchfield Meats in
Lexington, said that her company’s recipe no longer
includes them after many customers requested a cake without
who will bake a minimum of 100-150 fruitcakes this year, is
something of a born-again fruitcake lover. She tried
fruitcake while growing up and didn’t especially care for
it. Then she tried Critchfield’s, which made her a
hated it, then I tried ours," she said. "It’s
got a balance. It’s got that sweetness in there, but it’s
not too sweet. You can taste nutmeg and other spices, a
little bit of juice from the fruit."
Gerlac O’Loughlin at Gethsemani Farms in Nelson County
said that the fruitcakes there do not use candied fruit at
all, but rather fruit saturated and marinated in a Burgundy.
sweetness of the Gethsemani cakes is subtle, he said.
wouldn’t even describe it as sweet," he said.
"It’s not the outstanding characteristic that hits
Seifert of Louisville makes 300-400 fruitcakes a year for
distribution through outlets including Paul’s Fruit Mart
(where she got her start), Garden Gate and A Taste of
she is 74 and about to retire from fruitcake-making, Seifert
is candid about the mechanics of good fruitcake.
she started two decades ago, she said, "I’d always
wanted to make fruitcakes, but a lot of them were nasty. ...
I started to add and subtract. One thing I took out was
currants. They’re bitter, so I took out currants and put
more raisins in. I started adding and subtracting
ingredients and flavors until I got a good mix."
gets her fruit from Plant City, Fla., in 30-pound boxes.
have played around with flour, and have discovered that the
Kroger flour is just about as good as the Gold Medal,"
is also a fan of Diamond Walnuts and Sun-Maid Raisins, which
she buys in bulk at Sam’s Club. For bourbon, she uses
Kentucky Gentleman, a brand favored by hipsters, who drink
fruitcake is evolving into different forms — Claxton
Fruitcake in Georgia now offers "chocolate-covered
fruitcake nuggets," while Harry & David offers a
traditional fruitcake and a more nutty, fruity item called a
fruitcake may be given short shrift between comedians and
authors (see the children’s book, Junie B. Jones and the
Yucky Blucky Fruitcake), the market for fruitcake says that
perception is just wrong.
monks at Gethsemani make so much fruitcake — 70,000 pounds
of it annually, along with 57,000 pounds of fudge and 48,000
pounds of cheese — that they pay their expenses with food
the residents at Gethsemani eat a lot of fruitcake?
real often," Brother Gerlac responded when asked about
fruitcake consumption among the monks. "We’ll get a
piece for dessert on feast days."
rival fruitcakes, Brother Gerlac said that those from the
Collin Street Bakery of Corsicana, Texas are tasty
pretty good," he said of the Texas fruitcake. "A
few too many nuts for my taste."