Arts and Entertainment

Fruitcake: The gift that keeps on... being re-gifted

Two things, they say, will survive a nuclear attack: cockroaches and fruitcake.

But would the cockroaches eat the fruitcake?

Poor, poor fruitcake. It has become the butt of many holiday jokes.

People are vocal about their distaste of the dense, rich cake. There is even an alternative to the baked fruitcake, an inflatable one with the tagline, “The fruitcake they’ll actually want to get!”

Fruitcake hasn’t always had a bad rap. Historical references are found in ancient Egyptian and Roman times. Egyptians included fruitcake in pharaohs’ tombs because they believed the food would last into the afterlife. (Or it could serve a dual purpose as a doorstop if the deceased pharaoh had a drafty tomb.)

Roman soldiers brought the hearty cake on long journeys because it didn’t spoil and provided good nourishment. England has always had a fondness for fruitcake. (They also enjoy blood pudding, so should we really trust their taste?) It is said that Queen Victoria once received a fruitcake for her birthday, but to show her resolve, she waited an entire year before eating it.

To this day, fruitcake remains one of the most popular flavors for English wedding cakes. Perhaps the Royal Bakers have already begun baking Prince William’s wedding cake. Because as any good fruitcake connoisseur will tell you, the longer the fruitcake sets, the more flavorful it becomes.

On Dec. 11, Port Gamble will pay homage to this questionable baked good when they hold their 5th annual Fruitcake Contest as part of their Country Christmas Celebration.

“It started because everyone always makes jokes about fruitcakes,” said Julie McAfee, wedding and events coordinator for Olympic Property Group, which manages the historic Port Gamble town

Shana Smith, Port Gamble manager, first had the idea to do a fruitcake-throwing contest, but later decided to do a more serious tasting contest. The first fruitcake contest drew more than 30 participants. Since then, the event has usually drawn a more manageable 10 to 15.

“It’s hard on the judges if we get too many,” McAfee said. Because fruitcakes are traditionally soaked in liquor, Smith laughed and said, “It about knocks you out when you slice it open.”

The rules for entering the contest are simple: Fruitcakes have to be homemade and a recipe card must be included.

That’s it. The rest is up to the baker.

McAfee said they receive a wide assortment of cakes. Some are the traditional candied fruit, nuts, brandy and rum variety. Others are less traditional, with ingredients like chocolate chips and coconut. Most come with a story, usually about how the recipe has been passed down through generations.

The judging is closed to the public, to allow the tasters to speak freely and spare a baker’s feelings.

“There have been times when judges have spit out the fruitcake,” Smith said.

The cakes are scored in conventional categories such as presentation, taste and creativity. The non-conventional judging categories include weight and “cut-ability.” High-scoring fruitcakes slice easily, while ones that practically need a saw are ranked lower.

“We’ve had some that when you stick the knife in to cut it, you end up picking up the entire fruitcake with the knife,” Smith said.

Fruitcake follies

The 15th annual Fruitcake Contest is Dec. 11 at historic Port Gamble.

Competing fruitcakes should be delivered by 12:30 p.m. to the Wedding and Events Office, directly across the street from the Port Gamble water towers.

Judges this year include local author and New York Time’s bestseller Gregg Olsen, and the big man himself: Santa Claus.

Winners will be announced by 3 p.m. First prize is $100 local-merchant gift certificate, while a $75 gift certificate will go to the second place winner.

Information: (360) 297-8074

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