A few years ago, I wrote a book about brisket, The Brisket Book: A Love Story With Recipes. A few years after that, I pitched a book about my other passion: fruitcake. While that proposal generated real interest, no one was committed enough it to publish it.
I believe my love for both brisket and fruitcake comes from my desire to rescue each from slights and misperceptions, ones that posit brisket as tough, stringy, and dry, and fruitcake as doorstop-hard, cloying, and inedible.
While brisket has arguably turned a corner, making its way onto restaurant menus and dinner at the White House, fruitcake hasn't really made its way into people's hearts. (If you were made in a factory and chock full of bright green cherries, maybe you wouldn’t either.) So you can imagine my excitement when Matt Sartwell, managing partner at Kitchen Arts & Letters and fellow fruitcake enthusiast, decided to hold the First Annual Fruitcake Redemption Contest and asked me to be one of the judges.
Why not celebrate such a storied cake? One that, we agreed, deserves respect, recognition, and a poet to sing its praises; someone to extol its richly evocative nature, provenance; its exotic, jewel-like fruits and mysterious spices; its deep, complex flavors.
And that is just what we did. Ten glorious homemade fruitcakes showed up to be judged, each one greater than the last. There were nuts and cranberries, chewy figs and golden syrup, rose petals, marzipan, and gingerbread snowflakes.
While we sampled every cake and ultimately chose a winner, they were all delicious in their own thoughtful way. So many ingredients, so much prep, so many oranges to peel, slice, blanch, and candy. Were the cakes hard to make? “We had to bring ours in from New Jersey,” said one baker, who added, “The hardest part was the potholes.”
What’s next for fruitcake? Potholes aside, it’s definitely going places. What’s next for me? Rescuing a 3-legged puppy? Resurrecting a dying dieffenbachia? More like counting down the days until the Second Annual Fruitcake Redemption Contest.