20 December 2008

Review: Jane Parker 1 Pound Dark Fruitcake

Jane Parker is distributed by A&P food stores. There were A&P stores in the Chicago area when I was growing up, but there no longer are and I guess now they're only in the New York/New Jersey area. If anyone is reading this who can fill me in more about A&P and the Jane Parker fruitcake legend surrounding them, please do so in the comments.

I purchased the one-pound dark fruitcake (they call it fruit cake, with a space). It cost $20 including shipping. They seem to have worked out some type of purchasing and shipping arrangement with Amazon, as that's where you go to buy the cake. This cake wins as having the largest and most wasteful shipping box:

Hello, tiny little fruitcake. Welcome to my home! Perhaps they're implying that I should have bought more. The box that the cake comes in is nothing special, though there are some larger, ring fruitcakes available that come in pretty tins:

A bit presumptuous, don't you think, to call themselves America's Favorite? Finally, the fruitcake itself:

An aside (please skip this paragraph to continue the review): I realize that the following disclaimer is a long time coming, but here it finally is: for all of you who have stuck with me through this blog, and for anyone new or just coming upon this blog: I take lousy photos. It's not something I'm interested in, I don't own Photoshop, and I don't have tripods or lights. I'm really sorry that the best picture you have of these cakes is either a dark small photo (because I couldn't use the flash because of glare), or a shiny, glare-filled photo (because the dark photo was too blurry). I hope they're still a bit helpful.

Although this is a mass-produced fruitcake, I'm going to lump it in with the Other fruitcakes on my sidebar, because it is truly different. A couple of years ago my brother-in-law shared a couple slices of his mother's fruitcake with me. And I loved his attitude about it--he was all "this is my mom's fruitcake, it's what I grew up with, and although it might not be what you're used to, and you might not like it, I don't care." A big BRAVO to that attitude. The kind of fruitcake you love is influenced, I think, by the kind that you grew up with (maybe that's why many people don't like it, because they didn't grow up with any--pity). I'm not here to denigrate anyone's love of the fruitcake that jingles their bells. Well, on second thought, maybe I am a bit . . . but I, to paraphrase Voltaire, might not like your taste in fruitcake, but will defend to the death your right to have that taste in fruitcake.

Anyway, back to my brother-in-law. The Jane Parker fruitcake reminds me a bit of his mom's fruitcake (which was not bad in the least, just very different from what I'm used to). It's a cake, with fruit in it. As you can see from the photo above, there is a lot of cake in this fruitcake. The ingredents are not so great: they include partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, high fructose corn syrup, and caramel color. The dark fruitcake contains brown sugar and molasses, as well, and of course preserved fruit (which are called glaced fruit because the cake is actually made in Canada and that's what they call it--I think in the U.S. we call them candied fruit, but for some reason I call them preserved, which doesn't sound as nice but at least I'm consistent). The cake smells as if there's liquor in it, but there isn't a drop--maybe it's the fruit and spice I'm smelling, or even the molasses.

The cake has a very mild flavor--it tastes like spice cake with fruit in it. The fruit are your normal fruitcake size, not too large, not too small. This smaller cake is baked similarly to the one-pound Claxton fruitcakes, in that it was originally a larger cake that's cut into smaller loaves. The only nuts are the pecans on top, which are sort of lacquered down by an agar-corn syrup-corn starch glaze. I'm not keen on these glazes--the previous cake I reviewed had one that was more sticky and less like this one, which is a bit harder and you can sort of peel off the top like fruit leather. Sorry to be a little gross about that, but I'm not keen on glazes. It wasn't so off-putting that it kept me from eating the cake.

The flavor, as I touched upon previously, is really like a moist spice cake with fruit in it. I can see why there is a following for this fruitcake: because it's really quite different than either the heavy, boozy monastery fruitcakes, or the candy-like, nut-filled fruitcakes. It's much lighter, and if someone grew up with this as their definition of fruitcake, they might very well be appalled by the others and miss their relatively easy-going, likable cake.

This is not a cake that I would seek out. That being said, it's not unlikeable, and I won't be throwing it away. It's almost like a Christmas coffeecake--much more approachable than the other types of fruitcakes, and one to put into the "fruitcake for beginners" category I've mentioned in the past. So I've put it there--in the Other category, but notice that it's at the bottom.

If there are any Canadians reading this, I'd love to know if you know who actually makes these (they're distributed by A&P), and any other thoughts on the love (or dislike) of fruitcake in Canada. Because Canada has a closer relationship to England in some ways, there might be more of a tradition of Christmas cake.


Anonymous said...

In September I came to your web site. My favorite fruit cake was the one from Holy Cross. I grew up in Virginia and thought that there was no way Gethsemani could be better. My wife ordered it and a Holy Cross cake. I must humbly bow to your judgement now that I have tasted both. Gethsemani is better!!
There is enough difference to switch.

Isabelle said...

Wow, Anonymous, I'm flattered! I have to say I really enjoyed the Holy Cross cake, too, but Gethsemani really has got it going on.

ANDY PAGE said...

This year order JP fruitcake directly from the apfreshonline website


This is still the fruitcake I remember as a child growing up.

It has been an American tradition for almost 80 years.

Anonymous said...

Gethsemani fruitcakes which come from ky. were rated #1 by NewYork times - they also make great cheese and bourbon fudge.
I however have loved Sara Parker since Childhood and just found it on Amazon last year.