Have you ever received a bad Christmas present, a real downer, but were too polite to refuse it?
If you haven’t, let me introduce you to the FRUITCAKE. Yes, the FRUITCAKE . . . that 17 lb. heap of candied fruit, nuts and crushed barley that masquerades itself as a culinary dessert “gift”. Sure . .
I’ve not only been the recipient of this hideously dry rubble; I’ve prepared one myself. Just once, I might add. I was a mere school girl, thrilled with the prospect of having my deep-South neighbor Mrs. Allessio teach me how to prepare – and bake – this “special” Christmas gift tradition. I remember shopping at the local grocery for all the overpriced ingredients (none of which were in our kitchen pantry – the first clue that something was definitely wrong here), taking a whole Saturday afternoon to prepare it, and hoping in my childhood optimism that the final product would exceed the sum of its precarious parts. WRONG.
By the time we finally finished “baking” this thick, brown gravel, laced with a fruit called currents, it was already dark and too late for me to play outdoors with friends. Oh, well, I reasoned. At least I made a special, homemade gift.
Christmas Day arrived and, following dinner, I proudly presented this hefty gift of holiday grit to family gathered round the dining table. After commenting on the “lovely” spectacle known as the FRUITCAKE, some adults politely postponed the invitation.
“Oh, thanks, I’ll wait till later – when I have some room.”
Others opted to take “only a sliver,” confidently declaring, “I’m dieting” (really, on Christmas Day?).
One responded, “Maura, you know I only take coffee for dessert (a true statement – and lucky for them, I might add). I’ll just take a tiny taste of yours.”
Not to be daunted by all this reticence, I courageously asked for a large piece of Fruitcake and dug right in. In great anticipation, I eagerly championed the first forkful. For the next, I poured myself a glass of milk. For the third bite, I added a huge dollop of ice cream, only to find that this baked bundt of yuletide joy had the utter audacity to swallow any and all ice cream liquid up for itself! (If I were older, I could have at least doused this desert dry dessert with Drambuie, but such was not an option at the tender age of 9.)
Eventually, I found a legitimate enough distraction to leave the table, never to return to it – or that nefarious Fruitcake – that night. The cake just sat there . . . all alone, no one daring to acknowledge its presence at the dining room table set with lace tablecloth, fine china and exquisite silverware.
I’m not exactly sure how that FRUITCAKE finally met its ultimate demise. I believe it was returned to its vacuum-packed sleigh-and-holly gift tin to make a brief public appearance on the kitchen counter through New Years Day, “in case anyone would like to help him or herself to Maura’s homebaked gift”.
Next, it relocated to the kitchen closet where it remained front-and-center. . . for a time. A few weeks later, it was shoved to the back of the pantry and then repositioned to some obscure spot beside the Special K with freeze-dried strawberries (anyone remember how big of a hit that product was. . . .not!).
Finally, a year or two later, it was surreptitiously thrown out while I was at school. Nana was a notorious cleaner and probably tossed it, throughly convincing herself no food could possibly last that long without spoiling.
All I know is that no one ever spoke about the FRUITCAKE again. . . including me.
Now, since this is my telling of the tale and I’m no longer a naive child of 9, I’m declaring the following edict for my life:
1. There will be NO MORE FRUITCAKES.
2. If FRUITCAKES were so great, people would buy them all year and not just during the holiday season. Marketing-wise grocery chains would regularly advertise Buy-One-Get-One-Free specials on FRUITCAKES, but they don’t. And we all know why.
3. My guestimate is that there are far too many FRUITCAKES in the world and nobody knows for sure how to get rid of them. Holiday FRUITCAKES just keep getting politely accepted, regifted and recirculated so the next person can pass them along to another unsuspecting novice.
4. These seemingly eternal cakes refuse to decompose. Rumor has it that the longest preserved FRUITCAKE dates all the way back to the Roman Empire. Even these ancient people knew to refuse them.
5. Rumor also has it that eBay, the purveyor of all things, has refused to carry “FRUITCAKE” as one of its products unless it’s accompanied by an all-expense-paid, first class cruise aboard the QEII, at which time the FRUITCAKE can be discreetly disposed of in some back alley cannister in Southampton, England.
6. If you’re too polite to say, “NO” to this poor excuse for a present, here’s a foolproof pass-the-buck response for you: “Oh, I’d love to accept . . .but I’ve been advised by my periodontist that FRUITCAKES would cause my teeth to pop out. So sorry . . . .!”
Finally, because this is my version of Life in the Rearview Mirror let me be perfectly honest.
I DON’T LIKE FRUITCAKES.
Save your money and buy yourself a lottery ticket. At least there’s a one in ten million chance you might get a return.
Enjoy the Holidays!