A Plea for Fruitcake Redemption

December 22, 2017

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.

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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.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I love fruitcake. Dad used to make ours in a crock and it had booze in it, rum I think. He made it in loaf pans and leftover batter in muffin tins. We got to eat the muffin tin ones before Christmas. My favourite part were the red and green cherries.”
— bellw67

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.

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Stevie Pierson

Written by: Stevie Pierson


AntoniaJames December 27, 2017
Been making Jamaican Black Fruit Cake . . . all the fruit is dark, or becomes dark once soaked in dark rum with all those dark fruits for at least a month, and nary a bright green or red bit in sight. I give regular and mini loaves to friends and family; everyone loves it (even those who don't care for fruit cake) I also make my mother's Kentucky whiskey cake; it's like a pound cake with whiskey-soaked dried cherries, raisins and pecans in it, wrapped tightly in bourbon soaked butter muslin.
This year, I had extra fruit from the black cake, so I used it to make a Jamaican plum pudding (Mimi Sheraton recipe). Best plum pudding ever, and I've made so many over the years. Everyone loved it. Served with Greek yogurt sweetened with maple syrup, with a splash of top quality maple extract added for deeper flavor; for company, I'd offer brandy butter as well.
My sister sent me a perfectly delicious light fruitcake with figs and walnuts, soaked in booze and absolutely delicious. Will be running down the recipe for that one, too; I'll post a link once I get it on my drive. Happy New Year, everyone! ;o)
Stevie P. December 28, 2017
Oh that sounds so so good - I am dying to make your fruitcakes. Thanks for sharing recipes...
AntoniaJames December 28, 2017
If you like fruitcake, Stevie, you will love these. All of them! Just had a sliver of my darling sister (early Food52'er) SallyCan's fruitcake for breakfast.
You do know, don't you, that it's essential to refrigerate fruitcake to get the nicest slices? With my "packing company knife" (a replacement butcher-grade Chicago Cutlery boning knife that's just like the ones they used at my husband's family's packing plant in Goldsboro, NC) and a nice cold loaf, I can slice the most delicate slivers of fruitcake. Happy New Year! P.S. I'll post the plum pudding recipe, too. Absolutely divine. Something about dark rum plus dried fruit, a touch of molasses and a light hand with the spice bottles . . . . .
BerryBaby December 25, 2017
I love fruitcake! It wouldn't feel like the holidays without it. For those who think they don't like it they have never had a good one.
bellw67 December 25, 2017
I love fruitcake. Dad used to make ours in a crock and it had booze in it, rum I think. He made it in loaf pans and leftover batter in muffin tins. We got to eat the muffin tin ones before Christmas. My favourite part were the red and green cherries.
tia December 24, 2017
But I like glaceed cherries. *puppy eyes*

I pretty much like all fruitcake, honestly. But my mom's is the very best.
Stevie P. December 24, 2017
Join our illustrious club! And I would love if you would share your mom's recipe!
Lucien December 22, 2017
While some fruitcakes are better than others, I've yet to meet a fruitcake so stodgy that it couldn't be sophisticated by a soak in good brandy, rum, or bourbon. I love fruitcake!
witloof December 22, 2017
I just made my first fruitcakes! They have no glaceed fruit, but they do have candied orange peel and lots and lots and lots of bourbon. I'm thrilled with them.
Stevie P. December 23, 2017
That's great - redeeming fruitcake one candied bourboned slice at a time!
Mayukh S. December 22, 2017
Had a blast judging fruitcakes with you that day at KAL, Stevie! Glad the article's out ;-)
Stevie P. December 22, 2017
As did I! And love that your fruitcake piece is in my fruitcake post.
Fruitcake karma!