Patricia Nell Warren

To Eat -- or Not to Eat -- a Fruitcake

Filed By Patricia Nell Warren | December 22, 2008 6:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Christmas, fruitcake, homophobic behavior

I've always wondered why the homophobes decided to use the term "fruitcake" for gays. Do they mean those disgusting hunks of gluey stuff that are sold under the name "fruitcake" by supermarkets and commercial bakeries this time of year? Those "fruitcakes" don't even deserve the name. They are frauds. Somebody should be sued for fraud. It's hard to know what certain American food companies do to fruitcake to make it so awful...so tasteless and dry.

Maybe commercialized holiday culture turned against "fruitcake" because of the homosexual connection. Maybe the religious right sent a secret memo to the baking companies, telling them to ruin fruitcake on purpose. I.e. fruitcake has to be bad because homos are bad. If kids eat bad fruitcake, they won't "go gay" when they grow up.

Well, whatever grinch stole fruitcake, he shot himself in the foot and ruined one of the best foods known to humanity. Real fruitcake (i.e. homemade) is ambrosia, food for the gods and goddesses.

For any LGBT person who enjoys cooking, especially holiday cooking, making fruitcakes is a fun project for a group of people, because the prep work with the fruits is a lot of work. But it's worth it. And making our own fruitcake is the culinary version of standing up for our rights. It's a case of "gay is good"...literally.

Fruitcake is one of those ancient holiday dishes that have been around since medieval times, or longer -- like wassail, and roast goose. It's probably English, and reflects a time when people were thrifty and preserved the fruits of the season in sugar, so they could enjoy them in winter. When they ate oranges or lemons, they never discarded the peels, but candied them with sugar to save the last iota of citrus savor. This way, the wonderful taste of warm summer could be recaptured in the dead of December.

I got the fruitcake jones when I was a little kid, in a ranch family that loved to do holiday baking. Like certain cookies, fruitcakes can be made weeks in advance, and put away to "season" in a tin, wrapped in cheesecloth that has been moistened with brandy or rum. This year, it's still not too late to make one, if you get busy now and let it season till, say, New Year's Eve.

There are basically two kinds. Dark fruitcakes go heavier on the dark-colored fruits (like currants and regular raisins), with a little molasses in the mix, plus the more robust spices like cinnamon and clove. Whereas light fruitcakes omit the molasses, and float on the lighter-colored fruits like golden raisins and candied pineapple. You can go for the traditional recipes, like the ones in the Fannie Farmer Cookbook. More exotic recipes can be found if you search online. You can bake it in a regular loaf pan, or a tube pan, or any shape you choose. Just make sure you can get it out of the pan cleanly, so it preserves its shape perfectly. Use a Telfon pan, and butter it generously and dredge it with a little flour. Or use Pam for baking. Either way works.

I favor the light fruitcakes, and have learned that you can go creatively wild with any kind of fruits or dried berries. When making the batter, I use orange juice instead of milk for the liquid (you have to add a bit of soda to the baking powder to get the right Ph). Now and then, for the finely diced fruit, I've used a mixture of dried apricots, pears, peaches, apples, pineapple, candied citron, and of course candied lemon and orange peel.

This year I looked around the cupboard to see what I had, and found a package of candied mango strips that had been dusted with chili powder. A friend had given it to me, and somehow it hadn't been eaten. I washed most of the chili powder off, but left some just for fun. A teaspoon of chili powder can give an amazing kick to a sweet spicy cake -- traditional gingerbread recipes often call for it.

For this year's creation, I put the orange batter together with diced mango, golden raisins, dried cranberries, the de rigeur candied orange and lemon peel, and a mixture of chopped walnuts, pecans, almonds and Brazil nuts. Nuts are a must. For spices, I used ginger, allspice, nutmeg and cardamom. I baked it 1 1/2 hours at 325 in a big tube pan, and when it was cool, I sprinkled half a cup of rum over it and put it away in a tin to season for a couple of weeks.

When I got the huge cake out the other day, I sent part of it UPS to my brother. The rest of it disappeared in 48 hours. "I can't believe this is fruitcake," one friend told me as he reached for a second helping.

There's an old saying that eating well is the best revenge. Real fruitcake made by real LGBT people can be one of the best kinds of revenge there is. We can thumb our nose at the homophobes with gastronomic glee. And once you've eaten the real thing, you'll never go back to the store-bought fakes.


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I always thought "fruitcake" meant "crackpot" or "nutcase," not "homosexual". The anti-gay slur word was just "fruit." See: http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&safe=off&defl=en&q=define:fruitcake&sa=X&oi=glossary_definition&ct=title Also: http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&safe=off&oi=definer&q=define:nutty+as+a+fruitcake&defl=en

Anyhow, thanks for the post. I love fruitcake and have one or two old family recipes for it. We used to get one or two in the mail from great-aunts every year!

There is definitely an alternate perception that fruitcake equals queer. A friend of mine tells the story that his mom once gave him a fruitcake when he was still in the closet, and he wondered to himself, "Does she know?"

Absolutely Right, Patricia!
And fruitcake is part of our insidious plot to spread the gay gene through genetically engineered nuts

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | December 22, 2008 6:49 PM

Fruitcake is probably the closest thing in this part of the Milky Way that grossly violates (or is at least grossly ignorant of) the Second Law of Thermodynamics (or maybe it's the first or third...who has time to keep track?) I watched a show called "Universe" last night and it clearly identified fruitcake as being present in the nanoseconds after the "Big Bang", and prepetuated by re-gifting in the some 13 billion years since. But I'm sure your slightly younger creation is just as delightful, if not quite as eternal.

Marla R. Stevens Marla R. Stevens | December 23, 2008 9:11 AM

Doubtless the perpetually regifted one was a Claxton, from down around my old stomping grounds.

It took me to well into my 30s to find anyone who actually ate and enjoyed the things. All of us children had eaten -- or rather, picked our way through -- one, usually at the behest of some obscure aunt who had the temerity to serve one to hapless holiday visitors and all of us could describe the strange dark taste as we avoided all that even stranger fruit. The nuts were always the best part.

There was a cut-off age over which one was expected to be self-aware enough not to gag and spit things out a la Tom Hanks trying caviar at the company holiday party in Big. It strangely floated so that I was always older than it and my little sister was below the dividing line.

Yummy. The spicy mango would be a great addition. With a warm rum sauce. I will make one this year if I can find organic dried fruit.

If there is a Whole Foods or Trader Joe's near you, you'll probably find what you need.

We have Trader Joes here in Palm Springs where I am at for the winter months and had the joy of meeting you, but when I am at my house in NYC I go for WholeFoods on Houston St. It is fabulous.

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | December 22, 2008 7:40 PM

Fruitcake is probably the closest thing in this part of the Milky Way that grossly violates (or is at least grossly ignorant of) the Second Law of Thermodynamics (or maybe it's the first or third...who has time to keep track?) I watched a show called "Universe" last night and it clearly identified fruitcake as being present in the nanoseconds after the "Big Bang", and prepetuated by re-gifting in the some 13 billion years since. But I'm sure your slightly younger creation is just as delightful, if not quite as eternal.

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | December 22, 2008 7:40 PM

Fruitcake is probably the closest thing in this part of the Milky Way that grossly violates (or is at least grossly ignorant of) the Second Law of Thermodynamics (or maybe it's the first or third...who has time to keep track?) I watched a show called "Universe" last night and it clearly identified fruitcake as being present in the nanoseconds after the "Big Bang", and prepetuated by re-gifting in the some 13 billion years since. But I'm sure your slightly younger creation is just as delightful, if not quite as eternal.

Legend has it that at the moment that J. Robert Oppenheimer suggested to Albert Einstein that there might be mysterious, super-dense, inescapable gravity wells out there in the Universe called "black holes" ... you guessed it, they were eating slices of fruitcake.

By the way, the "yellow cake" uranium that Saddam Hussein supposedly tried to buy from Africa is a type of African fruitcake. Despite the name, it is actually quite dark. And the saying is that, similar to a black hole, once you eat African fruitcake, you can never go back.

(The half-life of a fruitcake can vary widely. Some split and disappear almost instantly, and others are incredibly stable and can last for years --- these latter tend to make excellent doorstops.

Patricia, if you're as good at cooking as you are at writing, then there's no doubt why your fruitcake lasts less than 48 hours.)

Thank you so much for bringing back fond memories for me. My grandma made the best fruitcake! Now no one in my circle will touch it, and it's way too much work not to be able to share it. I've tried many store-bought fruitcakes in hopes of finding a winner, but no such luck.

One of my favorite memories was this one: My grandma was a rigid teetotaler and wouldn't be caught dead in a liquor store. But she HAD to have brandy for her fruitcakes, so she would send me with a note and some cash to buy a half pint while she waited outside in the car. I guess that tells you how old I am. In those days a clerk would actually sell booze to a little boy with a note from his grandma!

Ah, fruit cake. I think my mom made the best there ever was - miles better than any commercial fruit cake, that is for certain. This particular fruit cake is moist, never hard, and is a dark Bavarian-style cake that features raisins and dates. I used to help her make them each year and prepare them for gifting, and did make them once since she became unable to bake them herself (she has passed on). I might have to do so again.

Here is her recipe.

You need a food grinder, similar to that you'd use to grind hamburger, and 3 bread pans.

3 cups sugar
1 cup butter or shortening
1 cup black molasses
1 cup black coffee, strong.
4 well beaten eggs
1 tsp. soda
1 tsp cinnamon
.25 tsp cloves
.5 tsp ginger
4 cups bread flour (not self rising)
1 cup dark raisins
1 pound Dromedary dates, pressed and ground.
.75 cup chopped walnuts
Fruit mix of your choice, as desired

Mix as listed, place and bake in preheated .325 oven 90 minutes. Makes 3 bread loaf pans. Recipe doubles and triples well for gifting, but do not attempt to half it.

It's best to make these after Christmas, and freeze them, or just make them around Thanksgiving. Pull the frozen cakes out of the freezer around Thanksgiving, or take your freshly baked cakes, and lace them with a good brandy (I recommend Hennessey - never Christian Brothers), or dark rum - Myers's, Pusser's, or Appleton Estate all work well. Lace them weekly, then once more right before gifting.

Nobody will ever use these fruit cakes as doorstops, believe me.


My sainted Irish grandmother sliced them and soaked them in rum or whiskey and served them slathered with hot whiskey sauce or rum and raisin sauce for News Years to prevent, so she claimed, hangovers. No one dared contradict her.

I got my first slice when I was about 15 and never cared to repeat it.

John R. Selig | December 23, 2008 2:55 AM

Patricia dispels the myth that there is only one fruitcake in the country and people just keep regifting it! Among her man talents Patricia is one of the best cooks I know so if she says her fruitcake is good you can go to the bank on it.

Speaking of regifting I have a great story from almost 40 years ago. One of my best friend's in college told me that his mother did the one thing that many people fear. She gave a friend of hers a present that she forgot that the friend had given her. The friend remarked when opening her present, "Didn't I give this to you?" My friend's mom was quick on her feet as she replied, "You did and I loved it so much that I got you one too!"

Happy Holidays everybody!

I must admit to secretly liking fruitcake - it's my favorite queer slur and some of them are good. I'm allergic to cloves though, so I tend to stay away just because you never know if they're in there.

Great post, Patricia.

Love the post, and the recipe ideas. I'm an avid baker, so I think there's a fruitcake in my future.

Maybe we should also mail a bunch of fruitcakes to Saddleback Church or the like.

I loved your fruitcake Patricia...it was yummy!

Best fruitcake ever comes from the Collin Street Bakery in Corsicana, Texas. My grandmother used to send us one every Christmas. Much later, I made the pilgrimage to the actual bakery. Seriously, you haven't had fruitcake till you've had one of theirs:

http://www.collinstreet.com/