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Don’t be the schmuck who throws away the fruitcake this year.
Far from the jokey, tacky, old fogey dessert it’s been tarted up to be, the fruitcake is a venerable holiday treat that’s kooky enough to delight children and hearty enough to satisfy the beefiest he-man.
Take time today – National Fruitcake Day – to re-acquaint yourself with the gooey richness that is the modern fruitcake.
When in Rome
The earliest fruitcake recipes come from Italy where the ancient Romans and describe a cake-like dessert made from a barley mash, pomegranate seeds, pine nuts and raisins.
Yummm . . . barley mash.
Let the dough age for a while, and you have one of the oldest versions of the lovely fermented flavor good fruitcake has.
Add to this honey, spices and more varieties of preserved fruit used in the Middle Ages, and we’ve come even closer to the fruitcake we know now.
As you’ll expect, the fruitcake became popular all over Europe in very short order.
Not only did recipes vary widely, but use of many ingredients, chief among them butter, was regulated by the Church.
It was not until 1490, for example, that Pope Innocent VIII would allow the use of butter and milk – via the ‘Butter Letter’ – in Saxony.
Fruitcake became more a dessert of the people starting in the 16th century when abundant sugar from what would become the United States made it possible to preserve larger stores of candied fruit.
Fruitcakes like the ones so much loved here in the United States became cheaper and even more popular.
One of the special qualities of the fruitcake that makes it a real, bonafide treat is that you can’t make one for the same money that you can buy.
And not only because they’re so rich in fruit and nuts.
A typical American-style fruitcake contains:
- Brown sugar
- Candied cherries
- Candied lemon peel
- Candied lime peel
- Rum, brandy or rum flavoring
- Nutmeg, Allspice, Cinammon
Check the grocery store.
A pound of any of the candied fruit runs about $5.
Do some math, and the price you pay for commercially-prepared fruitcakes becomes very reasonable almost instantly.
Finally, a spectacular dessert that is so special that we needn’t bother to try to make it.
A favorite treat that you don’t have bake yourself is even more special.
Claxton, Ga. – Fruitcake Capital of the World
We in the South are privileged to provide some of the best fruitcake available to the rest of the country and the world.
Check the stores in Greater Jacksonville right after Thanksgiving, and what you find is Claxton’s old-fashioned, world-famous fruitcake.
Sold in one-pound blocks for $4.29 per, Claxton doesn’t sit around long once it makes the 120-mile trip down from Georgia.
For about 103 years now, the bakery founded by Savino Tos – Italian immigrant and master baker – who came to New York City in 1910 to work in hotel bakeries.
Tiring of city life, he later took a job in Macon, Ga., making ice cream, then fell in love with southern people and southern manners and opened what is now Claxton Bakery, Inc.
Tos and Albert Parker worked together to make the bakery a success, so when Tos retired he sold the business to Parker, who ran it for the 50 years.
For Parker, Job One was to grow the business.
Taking advantage of an opportunity to market fresh baked goods in new-fangled grocery stores and gas stations with refrigerated cases, he began to market his fruitcake directly to other vendors.
In its first year of mass production, Claxton produced 45,000 pounds of fruitcake, and soon people all over the country were touting Claxton Bakery.
In the 1950s Parker agreed to work with the Civitan Club of Tampa using his famous fruitcake as a fundraiser.
It was an immediate success, and with each new venture, the Civitans spread the word, so soon more and more clubs sold more and more fruitcake direct to consumers.
Creative marketing led to even more success as Parker used national events like the 1964/1965 World’s Fair in New York to showcase his fruitcake.
Later would come floats and national television during the Orange Bowl Jamboree Parades in Miami and the Cherry Blossom Festival Parade in Washington, DC.
Today, over 1,000 organizations in North America use Claxton Fruitcakes for fundraisers, and it’s still available at your local grocery store for the holidays.
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OFFICIAL BIO: K Truitt is a second-generation, native Floridian born in Jacksonville. Truitt worked in public higher education for 25 years and knows newspaper publishing, printing and graphic design. Contact: email@example.com