22 September 2007

It's Fruitcake Season!!

Ah, I can feel it.The weather is starting to change and people are starting to think about holiday purchases. I've already received at least three fruitcake catalogs, and for certain companies where fruitcakes are a seasonal item, fruitcakes have reappeared on their website.

One of these companies is Hickory Farms. As previously proven by Turnip 1 and Turnip 2, the most popular food gift companies have really horrible fruitcakes, leading, it is my theory, to this mass hatred of fruitcakes. And a justified reaction it is.

So in the interest of the consumer, and all that is good and right with fruitcakes, my next fruitcake will be (shudder) Hickory Farms. Yes, I admit, I'm prejudging the cake. Hey, I've eaten a lot of them lately, and the latest two were both lovely. I'm not looking forward to eating more turnips or high-fructose corn syrup or preservatives or cabbage or whatever the food technologists in the back rooms of Hickory Farms have come up with. They're going to have to bring it, and I doubt they will.

I'm not kidding when I say I eat the fruitcake so you don't have to. Most of the time I enjoy it. Let's hope I'm pleasantly surprised with this one.

Review: Old Cavendish Fruitcake

The Old Cavendish fruitcake is made by the eponymous specialty food maker in Vermont who also makes mustards and vinegars. As I mentioned in my previous post, I wanted to try a fruitcake that didn’t have what fruitcake haters hate—that is, the brightly colored preserved fruits that one traditionally sees in fruitcake.

I purchased the $39, 2.5 pound, all natural Old Cavendish fruitcake, which comes in a bright red tin. There is also a 16 ounce size, available in both “all natural” and “organic” versions.

They weren’t kidding about all natural:

Love those ingredients, and the cake definitely reflects the quality of them. The one ingredient that I found disconcerting, in both the ingredients list and the cake itself: prunes.

This cake has two different types of alcohol listed in the ingredients: orange liqueur and brandy. There is a lightly boozy flavor but not as heavy as the monastery fruitcakes. This cake also lacks a certain caramel-like depth of flavor that I’ve tasted and liked in other cakes. I’m not sure what causes that—maybe less sugar or lack of brown sugar.

Many people dislike what they claim to be the bitterness of preserved fruit in traditional fruitcakes. You won’t find that in this cake. The flavor is straightforward, fresh and natural, with (obviously) a pronounced dried-fruit flavor. Oh, who am I kidding. There are big chunks of prune in this cake. It tastes pruney. The nut flavor is there, as well, but is not as pronounced because of the nuts chosen: walnuts and cashews. Cashews, a different choice for fruitcake, add a certain richness to the texture but not a lot of flavor due to the general pruni—-um, fruitiness of the cake.

It’s pretty obvious by this point that I did not like the large chunks of prune in the cake. I have nothing against prunes, but I think they should have been cut smaller.

I’d rank this along with the Harry and David fruitcake as a good “fruitcake for beginners.” If you don’t particularly like the taste of preserved fruit (and don’t mind prunes), give this one a try. It’s a well-made, natural, good-tasting festive cake.

UPDATE: This fruitcake is also sold through the Vermont Country Store, as noted by an astute commenter. Also, a commenter reports that the organic fruitcake doesn't have prunes in it.

09 September 2007

Right On, Fruitcake Lovers.

As I ordered the latest fruitcake and scanned the list of those yet to be reviewed, I mused upon the following question: why are there so many companies creating fruitcakes if everyone says they hate fruitcake? These companies certainly wouldn’t continue to sell fruitcakes if no one were buying them.

So why, then? Because there’s a silent majority of fruitcake lovers out there.

It’s a clandestine group who keep themselves to themselves, sort of like AA, or the Masons. Trust me--I’ve come upon these secret fruitcake-aficionados. When they hear I have a fruitcake blog, or they see me with my latest fruitcake purchase, they look me deeply in the eyes, searching for irony. Is she joking? Is she another one of those fruitcake haters who’s going to use that fruitcake as the punch line to yet another hackneyed joke? But then they see the unironic sparkling happiness in my eyes and realize that they’ve found a fellow fruitcake lover. They continue their reserved amazement for a few moments but my babbling chatter about the different types of fruitcakes I’ve encountered warms them and soon they’re describing their favorite fruitcake from childhood, or sharing how they got hooked and why it’s a tradition in their family.

So, fellow fruitcake lovers, do not feel overburdened by the responsibility of representing for the fruitcake. Let the weight rest gently on your shoulders, for there is a large but silent group of fellow fruitcake lovers out there who support you.

(And many of them read this blog and post great comments. I’ve picked up a lot of good information from them, as well as a laundry list of other fruitcakes that should keep me in business for another couple years.)

08 September 2007

Next Fruitcake: Old Cavendish

Next fruitcake to be reviewed is one by Old Cavendish Products in Vermont. They also make mustard. As I had said in this post, the next fruitcake I wanted to check out would maybe not have so many preservatives in the fruit. These people say that they use unsulfured fruit, which gives the fruit a darker texture. Will it taste better/worse? I wait with baited breath.