22 November 2007

Thankful for Fruitcake

I've had a couple of comments asking about the specifics of the fruitcakes I review; that is, which one's the best? How does one compare to the other? How would you rank them, on a scale of one to four citron pieces?

I've specifically tried to keep my reviews generic for the simple reason that different people like different things in their fruitcake. As I've said from day one, my favorite fruitcake is the one from the Trappists at Gethsemani Farms. But I've gotten a lot of comments from people who are passionate about other types of fruitcake, such as the more Southern-style fruitcakes of Southern Supreme. Far be it from me to rain on anyone's fruitcake parade--I'm on your team, guys. So my intent here is to really describe what the fruitcake is like, so that you can decide if you want to give it a try. Of course if it's really crappy, I'll let you know, but a lot of them are pretty good, just maybe not my favorite.

That being said, I do have a review and rating list over on the side there. Since I started reviewing fruitcakes, I've found that you CAN lump them into general categories, and I've tried to do that with my labels, also posted over on the side. If I get ambitious I might break down further my reviews and ratings by type. In the mean time, let this post serve to explain how I really feel about the fruitcakes I've eaten.

I like monastery fruitcake. I have not tasted one monastery fruitcake that I didn't like. They consistently excel in the quality of their ingredients and their rich, dark, boozy taste. They also seem very competitively priced, particularly if you buy directly from them as opposed to through a reseller (like Williams-Sonoma or Chefshop.com). You'll notice on my ratings scale that all of the monastery fruitcakes have bubbled up to the top. If I received any of these as a gift I would be a very happy camper (that is, if I hadn't already eaten my share of them back in April).

As I look at the ratings list, I see that a lot of the Southern-style fruitcakes are in the middle of the list. If all monasteries were raptured up (hmmm . . . would that happen?), the Southern-style fruitcakes are a good bet. These tend to be more candy-like, sweeter, and non-alcoholic, with a lot of nuts. They have pretty good ingredients, with maybe a bit more corn syrup or margarine in the mix. I miss the booziness of them (somebody help me with another adjective other than boozy, please!), but if you don't like that, these are the type for you.

The fruitcakes to avoid like the plague (and, I fear, the ones that people are most familiar with) are the mass-produced fruitcakes: the bottom of the rating scale. These are the Twinkies of the fruitcake world, except even Twinkies have redemptive qualities (sponginess, bizarre creamy filling) that these fruitcakes, already a scorned dessert, do not. Do not buy these and caution others to stay away.

Then there are the one-offs, or maybe I should call them "gateway" cakes: Harry and David, and Old Cavendish. Harry and David is a mass-produced fruitcake that actually tastes good. And Old Cavendish uses dried rather than preserved fruits, which results in a fresher, more quick-bread type flavor, although make no mistake, it's still all fruitcake. Both of these have slightly non-traditional, more approachable flavors than some of the others. Use these to lead your fruitcake-hating acquaintances into the fold. Pretty soon they'll be chowing down monastery fruitcake with the best of them.


Anonymous said...

I would like to suggest Beatrice Bakery fruitcakes for review. They used to supply Sears with Grandma's Bake Shoppe and Ye Old English fruitcakes. I believe they used to be named the Masterpiece recipe and the Butter Batter recipe fruitcakes.

Isabelle said...

Thanks, BBL. Beatrice is already on my list--I'll try to get to it next year.

Anonymous said...

Today I received my Gethsemani fruitcake (ordered per your review)and I must say that I consider it a good fruitcake - but not the best. Actually I don't really like fruitcake, except for one. My family has been eating the Butterfield Farms fruitcake for years and that one is the #1 cake as far as we are concerned. It has many more pecans in it than the Gethsemani and I happen to love nuts.

Isabelle said...

Katydid223, thanks for your feedback--and the challenge!! I will put Butterfield Farms on my list for next year. Your comment speaks to a couple of the points that I've found as I review fruitcake--that one person's favorite is not necessarily someone else's, and that a fruitcake lover's allegiance is with whatever they grew up with. It also speaks to why I try to only describe a fruitcake and not speak too ill of any of them--except for the ones that really are horrible, and I think there's a distinct line between those that are good and those that aren't.

I salute your love of your family's traditional fruitcake, and look forward to reviewing it.