Let them eat fruitcake Serious sales: Bill Schmidt, who in recent years has sold at least 1,000 pounds of fruitcake annually at $3.25 a pound, gives his customers a flier that recommends a rebuttal for fruitcake jokes.

November 27, 1995|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

Fruitcakes -- the holiday food people love to hate -- are no joke to Bill Schmidt.

The affable, white-haired grandfather from Parkville has sold thousands of pounds of fruitcake over 40 years to benefit charitable programs, and along the way, has heard all the jokes. vTC Like the "Fruitcake Theory," which says there is really only one fruitcake in the world -- one that is constantly passed around.

"I can't account for it. I eat it, not an abundant amount, but I eat it," says Mr. Schmidt, 65, who gives customers a flier that recommends a somber rebuttal for fruitcake jokes.

In recent years, he has sold at least 1,000 pounds of fruitcake annually at $3.25 a pound. "That station wagon out front is a rolling warehouse," he says of his gray Chevrolet Celebrity, in which he spends long days from October to the end of December delivering the cakes.

Again this year, Mr. Schmidt and 41 other members of the Civitan Club, a service organization, are continuing a sales tradition that was started by the club in Florida in 1952 and was adopted here in 1955. Local proceeds benefit programs for the mentally and physically disabled that are supported by the Civitan Club of Baltimore.

Mr. Schmidt remembers his first year well. "My father presented me with a case of fruitcake and said, 'Sell it.' "

Now, his family helps in the project, including his wife of 43 years, Dorothy, and two of his three grown children.

He's also zealous in recruiting others -- including many local banks -- to sell the dense, dark- and light-colored fruitcakes made by Claxton Bakery of Claxton, Ga., the "Fruitcake Capital of the World."

"I'm a little new at it," says Blanche Stedtler, a spry 79-year-old who has been selling fruitcakes to her bowling team and beauty shop friends for six years. "It's a worthwhile thing to do."

The Carney resident calls Mr. Schmidt an inspiration. "He's a wonderful person. If more people were like him, the world would be a beautiful place to live."

In addition to selling fruitcakes, Mr. Schmidt, a retired construction estimator, serves as the Civitan Club liaison to Boy Scout Troop 730 and Explorer Post 730 for disabled Scouts. The troops are beneficiaries of the fruitcake sales, in addition to the Baltimore Association for Retarded Citizens and several other programs.

"It's for a good cause," says Kent Bostic, a First Fidelity Bank branch manager whose North Plaza branch sells fruitcake. "It's very popular. I don't like [fruitcake]. Mostly, older people like it. They just scarf it up."

"Nobody's lukewarm about fruitcake," adds Patricia Hodges, a Signet Bank branch manager who has been involved in the sales. "You either like it or not."

That love-hate relationship has led to many snide remarks about fruitcakes. In January, for example, a local radio station smashed 300 pounds of unwanted fruitcake in a promotion that benefited the Maryland Food Bank.

"We just kind of laugh along with everybody," says Dale Parker, ** vice president of the 85-year-old Claxton Bakery.

The family-owned company sells about 4 million pounds of fruitcake a year, half of which is sold nationally by the Civitan Clubs. "We have the utmost respect for the Civitans," Mr. Parker says. "They try to make a better way for people."

Last year, the Baltimore Civitan members sold 12,000 pounds of fruitcake. This season, they expect to sell 16,000 pounds or more.

It's a product Mr. Schmidt has faith in. "I use the finger test," he says, explaining that if a person pokes the cake with a finger he always will touch one a fruit or nut, not just dough.

But contrary to another joke, fruitcake does not have a shelf life of 16 years. "Because it has nuts, it can go bad," says a patient Mr. Parker, who has heard the comment many times before. However, fruitcake can be refrigerated for an indefinite period, he adds.

The local Civitans already know what they will do with leftovers. They will be sent to food pantries and soup kitchens, Mr. Schmidt says.

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