It's never too early to sing praises of noble fruitcake

Friday, November 23, 2001

Tax Day, that magic day when somebody smarter than me tells us we've worked long enough to pay our tax bills, keeps getting later and later.

Meanwhile, the Christmas season starts earlier and earlier. I'll swear I heard Jose Feliciano singing "Felice Navidad" while I was shopping in May.

And who laughs at homeowners who leave their holiday lights up year around? Not me. Why would anyone want to stand on a ladder watching his fingers turn blue every November when you can do it once and be done for life?

You see, America isn't working harder. It's working smarter.

Which is why I am paying my annual tribute to the noble fruitcake earlier than ever this year.

OK. Take a break.

The fruitcake I'm talking about is the one filled with artificially colored candied fruit and nuts and raisins and sugar and flour and eggs and rum.

Fruitcake, as I have said many times before, is the most maligned food in the world.

Sure, turnips and tripe take their lumps too. But for good reason.

Fruitcake, on the other hand, has an undeserved reputation that keeps millions of people from ever discovering what a magnificent creation it really is.

You know all the fruitcake jokes, right? So every time you tell one, or laugh when somebody else tells one, your are contributing to the demise of a great culinary institution.

Over the years, fruitcake has had such a bum rap that you can't find anybody to admit he likes it.

Except me, of course.

Some of you are probably thinking, "Joe, you remind me of that Don Quixote fellow, or maybe it's Pancho or Sancho or whatever his name is. But you're fighting a battle that already has been declared a clear victory for the enemy."

So I've noticed.

But what if Joan of Arc had ignored those voices? If she had joined the popular crowd, she would have died in her bed at a ripe old age instead of in a bonfire -- and instead of going to France to see the Eiffel Tower, we'd be heading to New England.

What if Moses had said he was willing to part the sea but was afraid he might get a rash if he had to stay in the desert too long?

What if plantation owner G. Washington had said, "Sure, we can take a rowboat to Trenton, but don't we want to open our Christmas presents first?"

What if Charles Lindbergh had said he didn't mind flying to France, but would it be OK if he started in Scotland?

What if Eva Peron had walked up to that microphone and said, "It's OK, folks. I still like to tango"?

I'm sure you can see now why my annual defense of the fruitcake is so darn important.

By the way, the reason Moses wound up wandering around in the desert so long -- rash and all -- is because he quickly discovered that running out of food was a good thing. When everybody was starving, God would send manna from heaven. If you've been paying any attention at all, you already know "manna" is the Hebrew word for fruitcake.

Funny how things work out, isn't it?

OK. Now the hard part.

This is where I do my wheedling for free fruitcake.

I know some of you still secretly make fruitcake. I want you to know -- and you have my solemn pledge on this -- that your secret is safe with me.

If you are among the last fruitcake bakers of the world, and if -- and only if -- you make a really good fruitcake (see ingredients list above), don't you think you should share with the only defender you have left on the face of the earth?

Finally, I implore you to rely on the Good Book in this matter. And I'm not referring to the "Joy of Cooking."

You know what it says. But maybe you don't know what was left out.

Remember turning water into wine at the wedding? The part that was left out was the part about running out of fruitcake, and without enough fruitcake to go around the marriage would, under local custom, likely be declared null and void. Thank goodness the folks over at Cana Bakery and Sweet Shoppe came to the rescue, and everyone ate fruitcake until the bride threw her bouquet.

I'm guessing the fruitcake episode didn't make the final draft because the editors wanted to avoid as many free plugs as possible.

The wine was a miracle. The fruitcake was bad planning.

There's a point to this parable: You can buy good wine just about anywhere, but good fruitcake is hard to come by. So which is a greater test of your goodness and compassion for your neighbors?

I say do the right thing. Share some fruitcake today. And feel free to substitute black walnuts for pecans.

R. Joe Sullivan is the editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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