F-troop fights fear and loathing of fruitcakes

HAPPY EATER

December 02, 1992|By ROB KASPER

I have heard the fruitcake jokes.

How slices of fruitcake make ideal drink coasters. How a plug of fruitcake can substitute for a lost wine cork. How a very old fruitcake is very good at soaking up motor oil from your garage floor. And how a clever way to conserve water is to place a fruitcake in your toilet tank.

I have smiled, but it is a tight smile. I like fruitcake. I am an FOF, a Friend of Fruitcake. This is a group I formed the other day after hearing yet another assault on the holiday loaf. The group's mission is to protest the acts of cruelty, most of them attempts at humor, that are annually inflicted on this treat. (To become a member, send proof of fruitcake loyalty to me at The Sun, 501. N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278-0001).

The kind of fruitcake I like is the homemade type, not the store-bought. The kind my wife has promised to make, again this year. If I go buy all the ingredients.

Making a real fruitcake is a lot of work. That, of course, is the problem. What most enemies of the fabled treat call fruitcake is the one made in a factory. This dark rectangle is made with bits of fruit that look as if they have been held captive in unpleasant surroundings. Such cakes are sold in stores and by various groups who want to put suffering back in the Christmas season.

I believe most fruitcake critics end up with store-bought cakes because they do not know how a real oven works. The only kind of oven they can operate is one that reheats pizza and goes "Beep."

Shortly after founding Friends of Fruitcake, I took some action to defend the honor of our national treasure.

I made phone calls. First I called to check the popularity of fruitcake. It may come as a surprise to some people that there actually is a poll -- 1,000 people (margin of error plus or minus 3 percent) -- tracking America's fruitcake approval rating. Not only is there a poll, there is also a fruitcake hot line. The folks who commissioned the poll run the Land O' Lakes Holiday Bakeline ([800] 782-9606,) a phone bank of home economists who answer questions from worried bakers of fruitcakes and other holiday treats. For Friends of the Fruitcake, the results of the poll were, at best, mixed. On the plus side there was the happy news that 60 percent of the nation would prefer to receive homemade food gifts rather store-bought eats.

But on the downside, the poll showed what America really wants for the holidays is a box of homemade cookies, not fruitcake. Moreover, the poll showed that more people (15 percent) want to give a homemade fruitcake as a holiday gift than want to receive it (9 percent). This translates into a negative or "not-that-again" rating of 6 percent for fruitcake as a gift.

Next, I confronted a leading fruitcake tease, Diane Lewis, author of "50 Ways To Recycle Fruitcake" (Adventure Publications, Cambridge, Minn., $5.95) a paperback making fun of the noble loaf.

Last year Ms. Lewis ridiculed fruitcake by selling slices of it, encased in Lucite, as a Christmas tree ornament. This year, with the publication of her anti-fruitcake treatise, she immediately went to the top of the recently formed Enemies List of the Friends of Fruitcake.

I spoke to this Queen of Darkness, this Defiler of Goodness, this mother of three sons from her home outside Detroit. I wanted to be stern and disapproving. But mostly as I listened to Ms. Lewis talk about fruitcakes, I laughed.

She claimed she wrote the book to help the environment. The problem with our landfills, she said, is they are filling up with old fruitcakes. This environmental insight, she said, inspired her to think up ways fruitcakes can be "recycled."

For example, she recommended that during snowy weather you put a fruitcake in the trunk of your car. It weighs down the car and gives you excellent traction on slick roads, she said.

Or, she said, if you have a throw rug that keeps slipping on your wood floors, just rub a little of the sticky part of the fruitcake on the underside of the rug. Soon, the slipping stops.

In the summer, she said, a fruitcake makes excellent ballast for a sailboat, or several cakes can be saved and used to build a sea wall. Gardeners who have problems with gophers, she said, should drop a little fruitcake down the gopher hole. No one knows exactly what happens, she said, but the critters never come back.

Finally, I asked Ms. Lewis if she ever ate fruitcake. Never touch the stuff, she said, "I don't eat anything that has a longer life expectancy than I do."

Funny. But while the enemies of fruitcake get the laughs, we Friends of the Fruitcake get the good stuff.

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