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Everybody loves fruitcake … right?

December 23, 2001|By JENNIFER RALTON-SMITH, Staff Writer
  • Monica Ortiz decorates a cake while a tray of fruitcake molds sit in the foreground at Temptations. CUAUHTEMOC BELTRAN PHOTO

Humorist Dave Barry calls fruitcake the ideal Christmas gift because "the postal service has been unable to find a way to damage it."

Ever the butt of Christmas jokes, the humble fruitcake actually has a history stretching back to Roman times.

Popular in Europe during the Roman era, cooks mixed raisins, pine nuts and pomegranate seeds into a barley mash concoction.

In the Middle Ages, honey, dried fruits and spices were added to bread dough for special occasions.

At one time, fruitcake was considered semi-sacred, with laws in place in Europe until the end of the 18th century that restricted its making to celebrations such as Christmas, Easter and weddings.

Zoom forward through history to Christmas season 2001 here in the Imperial Valley and you'll find bakeries getting down to the serious business of whipping up their favorite version of this Christmas staple.

Wednesday found Alma Rashid, owner of Temptations Bakery in Calexico, overseeing baker Fernando Garrido as he mixed a jeweled cornucopia of crystallized fruit and pecans.


"This is a recipe that has been in my family since the '50s. I've tried many recipes but this is the one I like the best," Rashid said.

With a shopping list of 32 pounds of crystallized fruit and 16 pounds of pecans going into every batch, this is definitely not the fruitcake your Aunt Edna used to make.

When challenged with the fact that her fruitcake looked more like candy than cake, Rashid smiled and admitted as much.

"Well, it is kind of like that. You cut it very thin, almost paper thin — and you eat it slowly."

With a sisterly sigh, Rashid confessed that her brother cut slices that were far too thick.

"He likes my fruitcake a lot," she said.

Rashid says some of her fruitcakes find their way south of the border as part of Christmas gift-giving in Mexico but most are purchased for gift-giving here in the Imperial Valley.

Rashid says she suspects many of her customers who put in multiple orders for fruitcake in various shapes and sizes keep the larger cakes for themselves and give away the smaller cakes as gifts.

Not everyone is so enamored with fruitcake during Yuletide, or at any other time, for that matter.

"Wouldn't make it, wouldn't eat it."

That's the word from Jeannie Hardesty, manager of Brown Bag Cookies in Brawley.

The Brown Bag staff was busy Thursday making sugar cookies in a rainbow of Christmas hues and shapes.

Hardesty estimates the business produces some 3,000 dozen cookies each December.

"At the end of the day you begin to feel a bit like a Keebler elf," Hardesty said as she mixed yet another large bowl of frosting.

Would-be customers Harold Walk and Amy Seeley, both of El Centro, were dismayed to discover there were no more over-the-counter cookie sales until after Christmas because of the volume of special orders.

When asked if he'd consider buying Christmas fruitcake instead, Walk said, "Absolutely not! Well, maybe I'd eat it if somebody gave it to me, but I'm not too excited about fruitcake."

In the spirit of Christmas goodwill, store owner Bill Gordon handed Walk and Seeley a cookie each "on the house" to make up for their disappointment.

Over at the Brawley Public Library, there was no shortage of opinions as to the merits or demerits of Christmas fruitcake.

"I'd rather be attacked by a giant cockroach than eat fruitcake," says Francisco Soto of Brawley.

Library Director Marjo Mello admits to loving fruitcake, but only if it's the fruitcake her parents order for her each Christmas from a company in Texas.

Coming from a military family, Mello says, "It's been a tradition for all of the 28 years I've been married. My parents make sure to order this cake for us, no matter where in the world they happen to be stationed at the time.

"It's the only moist, enjoyable fruitcake I've ever tasted," Mello said, clearly anticipating the next edible Christmas gift from the folks back in Oklahoma.

Library clerk Susan Manger is no devotee of fruitcake and made her position on this vexing question clear by saying, "After the nuclear holocaust, the only things left standing will be cockroaches and fruitcake — and the cockroaches will starve to death."

So, either way you cut it, Christmas fruitcake is here to stay. Clearly it has a loyal following and, just as clearly, there are those who wouldn't be inclined to go to the mat with the roaches over the last piece of fruitcake left on earth.

>> Staff Writer Jennifer Ralton-Smith can be reached at 337-3442 or

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