Many decades ago when I was just a boy, I saw a strange, colorful thing that looked like a loaf of magical, wonderful candy. It sat there beckoning on the packed kitchen table at my grandmother’s house.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Fruitcake,” one of the grown-ups at the Christmas Eve gathering told me.
Cake? Count me in. I asked for, and was granted, a slice of this mysterious wonder called fruitcake.
This is when I learned I hated fruitcake more than anything, and for years I swore it off, refused to even acknowledge its existence. While I couldn’t remember the actual flavor as the years passed by, I remembered that I hated it, and that was enough. But then I realized recently that Christmas was approaching and that I wanted to find something holiday-themed to write about.
So I went to Dirty Kroger in Clifton and plunked down $4.99 for a Benson’s Farm Holiday Fruit Cake just to see if the stuff was as unimaginable as I’d remembered. It was neatly packaged and even pre-sliced for my personal holiday convenience, and seemed harmless enough.
So I get it home, open it and examine this fruitcake, and I realize that it honestly looks sort of like canned dog food. Then I peel off a slice and see that, on the inside, it looks like a cross between country souse and pickle loaf, with the “fruits” (raisins, cherries, pineapple, etc.) appearing to take on the consistency of the “cake” surrounding them.
When I touch it, it feels sort of gelatinous and a bit sticky. I lower my nose to it and the smell sucker-punches my olfactory – it is horrendous, sort of like cheap candy, but a super-strong, sickly sweet version of candy, like if someone threw up Sweet Tarts. Seriously, the smell almost makes me wretch; I think I can even say this fruitcake is hurting my feelings. For some reason, I pick up the square slice of the fruitcake and take a bite.
The taste is every bit as horrible as the smell predicted, and I find myself wondering how this putrid thing even exists. Who eats this stuff? I mean, other than for research purposes. I suddenly and involuntarily say “Oh my god” out loud, even though I’m at home alone. My dog Darby appears concerned, and I in turn worry that he absolutely should be. It tastes like I’m eating a regurgitated Pop-Tart.
I slowly and deliberately “chew” the one bite I manage to eat of this holiday abomination, and I soon find that I can’t even swallow it. I literally cannot physically force myself to swallow this unholy thing, so there it sits in the left side of my mouth. I reach for my Pepsi, which is sitting close by. (Yes, this was planned.) I finally manage to wash down the mostly-chewed gunk with a couple of slurps.
But the flavor lingers. That awful, offensive, nasty, cheap-candy-in-vomit flavor. The stuff also leaves a weird coating on my tongue and the left side of my mouth, and that’s where the putrid flavor sits and festers. I literally feel violated. At first, it merely violates my mouth and taste buds, but within a few minutes I feel this … this fruitcake thing violating my very soul.
Ponder this: I took one bite from one slice. One bite. Guess what the suggested serving size is ? Four slices. Who would or even could eat four slices of this quasi-Christmas “treat”? And each serving contains 11 grams of fat, 360mg of sodium and 450 calories. For this? THIS??
Now the taste won’t go away. I keep drinking Pepsi, but it won’t subside. It just sits there.
To further my research, I give Darby a bite, placing it on the floor in front of him. He looks at me, and then looks at it. Then he looks at me again and I urge him on: “Go ahead. You can have it.” He sniffs it one more time, and gives it just a whisper of a lick. Then he looks at me accusingly and walks away. Mind you, this dog isn’t finicky. He just isn’t ready to give his life for my journalism career.
And so, here, some 40 years after the one other time I tasted a piece of fruitcake, I renew my vow to myself and to all who read these words, now and forever, that I will never, ever eat another bite of fruitcake again, as long as I live. I feel certain that this time I can keep that promise.