Fruitcake is quite possibly the most maligned dessert in American culture.
Urban legend says the bad reputation began with Johnny Carson when, in 1985, he quipped, “The worst gift is a fruitcake. There is only one fruitcake in the entire world and people keep sending it to each other.”
It’s been considered potential building material and, in the town of Manitou Springs, Colo., it’s become catapult fodder for The Great Fruitcake Toss, an event that raises money for a local food bank.
Yet, there’s no denying fruitcake’s popularity.
Monks at Assumption Abbey in Missouri produce about 25,000 fruitcakes a year. The cakes are shipped out across the country and sold through outlets like Amazon and Williams Sonoma.
The fruitcakes made by the monks are loaded with orange peel, raisins, currants, cherries, pineapple and other wine-soaked fruit. After baking, each cake is injected with about an ounce of rum and coated with corn syrup. After about five minutes of prayer, the cakes are wrapped and put in individual shipping boxes. All work is done by hand, with five people in the bakery.
Prior to embarking on the baking business, the monks made concrete blocks. The fruitcake jokes inherent in that reality write themselves.
Closer to home, Pennsylvania Bakery in Camp Hill expects to sell upwards of 1,000 fruitcakes. Requests for the seasonal dessert started before Thanksgiving, according to store manager Rachelle Schenk Womer.
Carlisle Bakery is also ready to meet the demands of those who love the traditional holiday treat.
“You either hate it or you love it. There is no in between,” said Russ Dingeldein, pastry chef manager at Carlisle Bakery.
Dingeldein said one reason fruitcakes might have a bad reputation is that people think it’s filled with “hard, dried, sugary, candied fruit” or that some simply don’t like the texture. Dried fruit is key to a good fruitcake because people are more accustomed to dried fruit and think of dried fruit as a healthier alternative.
“The traditional fruitcake that a lot of people don’t like is made with molasses,” Womer said.
Pennsylvania Bakery’s fruitcakes are considered a light fruitcake, made with generous amounts of butter. “It’s probably not the best thing for you but it is delicious,” Womer said.
The cakes contain fresh dates, white raisins, pineapple, cherry, pecan halves and just a touch of rum for flavor. “It’s chock full of fresh fruit and big chunks,” Womer said.
The shelf life of the cake varies. Collin Street Bakery, one of the largest fruitcake bakeries in the country, states on its web site that its fruitcake keeps for 60-90 days at room temperature.
Dingeldein suggested his fruitcakes could last a couple of months.
Womer, however, recommended a much shorter shelf life. “We suggest that if you’re giving it as a gift you wait until the week before Christmas,” she said.
Both bakeries agree that ordering ahead of time is vital to making fruitcake a part of the Christmas celebration.
“Since it’s a seasonal item, it’s on a first come first serve basis,” Dingeldein said. “When they are made, the recipe will yield a certain quantity and that is the amount available to purchase for the season.”
Though Womer will take orders up until the day before Christmas Eve, she said that there are limits on how many cakes the bakery can produce in such a short time. “Try to get them in a couple of weeks before the holidays. Then, you will have the greatest selection,” she said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.