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North goes nutty for fruitcakes

PORT GAMBLE — Five brave people took on an unimaginable task last weekend, involving a traditionally love-it-or-hate-it holiday dessert.

The eager souls taste-tested 21 fruitcakes. In one hour. All in the name of community.

Port Gamble Country Christmas organizers Shana Smith and Julie McAfee hosted the first annual Fruitcake Contest during the town’s two-day holiday festival Dec. 11. They called on North Kitsap Herald Publisher Rob White, Kingston Chamber of Commerce president Tom Waggoner, The Bremerton Sun Classifieds Ad manager Steve Hession, Anglican Church of St. Paul Pastor Duncan Clark and KJR-FM disc jockey Angela Kirby to sit down and determine who in Kitsap County had the best fruitcake.

“Thank God I only have to eat a bite,” Kirby said as she watched the 21st cake come through the door at 11:30 a.m. Saturday. “That’s a lot of fruit cake.”

Some of the cake flavors included apricot brandy, chocolate cherry, chocolate rum, fruitcake in grapefruit shells and tropical fruitcake. Entries came from all over the county, including recipes from Bremerton to Bainbridge Island.

Judges met in the conference room below the Port Gamble General Store with water and oyster crackers to cleanse their palettes and a check sheet of eight criteria: outside and inside appearance, flavor, cut-ability, fruit, nuttiness, aroma and originality.

As the judges dug in at 1 p.m., they tested the entries seriously, making comments on how hard or easy it was to cut, how it smelled and, of course, the taste. It was obvious which of the many entries had either rum or brandy in them.

“This has quite the alcohol content,” Clark said at one point. “Lord have mercy.”

“One of the criteria for next year is what month did you make this,” White joked, as the group came across several of cakes that had been slowly developed over period of time, one during the course of six weeks.

After an hour of downing bites from 21 fruitcakes, the judges leaned back in their chairs in exhaustion while Smith and McAfee added up the scores and announced the winners: Susan LeBow of Bremerton won the grand prize with her tropical fruitcake and Sharon Budd of Poulsbo was the runner up with her fruitcake in grapefruit shells.

“I’ve been making this particular fruitcake for 15 to 20 years,” LeBow said.

Her fruitcake had the standard items — pecans and candied cherries and pineapple — but it was just a simple recipe her mother got out of a magazine and has been in the family for 25 years.

“I think one of the things that makes it good is the fruits aren’t bitter,” she said, noting the fruits are candied and the cake is soaked in pineapple juice, not rum or brandy.

“It’s such a great cake,” she said. “It doesn’t have the derivative of a door stop.”

LeBow won a spa package at The Spa at Port Gamble and Budd won Chocolate High Tea for two at La La Land Chocolate.

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