In Defense Of: Respecting fruitcake as a holiday dessert

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(Graphic illustration by Charlie Dillon | The Collegian)

Scotty Powell

It’s wintertime again. At least, I’m pretty sure it is. Of course, given the scorching heat we’ve been experiencing these past few weeks, it’s also possible that the weather machine responsible for creating precipitation in this massive, “The Truman Show”-esque simulation we are all involuntarily acting in is malfunctioning and thus keeping us locked in a perpetual summertime season.

It’s either that or climate change. But let’s be reasonable: If it was “climate change,why would the weather be the same as it was back in August? Hm? Yeah, that’s right: You and your fancy schmancy Ph.D.-in-meteorology brain didn’t think of that one, did yeh?

Clearly, our “The Truman Show” simulation snow machine has simply blown a fuse.

But that’s no matter! Whether the weather likes it or not, it’s wintertime. This means the holiday season is here — that glorious time of year when we all once again pull our great-grandmother’s copy of “American Cookery” out of its lonely spot in the darkest corner of our kitchen pantry and resurrect the most bizarre culinary confections from its dank and dusty pages. 

From figgy pudding to gingerbread cookies to sugarplums to eggnog, holiday desserts are more like garbage pails than they are palate cleansers — food things invented for the sole purpose of giving people a sneaky way to dispose of whatever Thanksgiving dinner ingredients they might have taking up space in their kitchen without feeling wasteful.

When it comes to disgraced wintertime desserts, however, no Christmas confection has proven more controversial over the years than fruitcake. With its Super Ball texture and overly sweet flavor, this gummy bear bread has been perhaps the most divisive thing to happen to Christmas since Mrs. Claus converted to Judaism.

But is this snowy seasonal as bad as its dismal reputation suggests? Though not the tastiest of post-entree treats, its apparently universal declamation as the single most disgusting dessert seems undeserved considering the idiosyncratic composition of its fellow horrific holiday season snacks — namely, sugarplums.

Yes, while one can’t defend the merit of fruitcake itself, one can at least reassess its permanent relegation to the bottom rung of our holiday treat hierarchy when desserts more deserving of that spot exist.

From “The Nutcracker” to “The Night Before Christmas,” sugarplums have for too long been overhyped in our collective holiday spirit as treats so delicious they reside on an entirely different metaphysical plane of existence than our own — in lands of fairies and the dreams of sleeping children.

But it’s time to cut sugarplums down to size and admit these representations are woefully misleading and don’t accurately convey the flat dullness of these dainty indulgences, which, in reality, consist of nothing more than dried raisins, figs and apricots squashed together into chunky mounds of fruit goop and then wrapped in cellophane and sold as “candy.”

Yes, nothing says “holiday indulgence” quite like a nice, sweet, oh-so-decadent granola bar. 

Why any child’s sweet Christmas Eve dreams would be populated by lumpy mounds of glorified fruit leather is beyond me, unless Clement Clarke Moore’s parents were the kind of nutrition-obsessed parents who made their children eat spinach and acorn smoothies for every meal of the day, thus making these antioxidant-laden atrocities seem like a sinful extravagance.

Either way, in spite of its flaws, given that fruitcake at least drowns its fiber-rich fruit filling in a nice, thick puddle of cake batter, it seems that it is, in the very least, deserving of its title as a true blue “holiday dessert” in a way that sugarplums with their heart-healthy ingredient lists are not. And fruitcake ought to be — if not outright respected and admired — at least bumped up a slot on the seasonal treat scoreboard.

Reach Scotty Powell at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @scottysseus.