Excerpt by Robert Farrar Capon; Published: December 14, 1983, New York Times Magazine
BREATHES there a man with tastes so dead who never to himself has said, on having yet another holiday fruitcake delivered to his doorstep, “Whatever happened to the cake in these concoctions?”
The human race has always had difficulty keeping its brain children from running wild, but nowhere more than with fruit do our bright ideas so regularly threaten to obliterate the hapless substances on which they visit their excesses. Once, for example, there was raisin bran; now we are up to raisin-apple-date-honey cereal, with the clock still running. Once there was sole Veronique, [A prepared or garnished with usually white seedless grapes ] a culinary jeu in which fish was garnished with grapes; now, with utter seriousness, cherries, apples, kiwis, plums and peaches are applied to fish and fowl, beast and bird. Once – even – there was something called yogurt: old-timers tell us it was just milk that had been clobbered by the addition of a suitable culture, but to contemporary teen-agers yogurt that doesn’t have strawberries, blueberries or mandarin oranges simply isn’t yogurt at all.
It is with fruitcakes that the tendency has gotten completely out of hand. Putatively, they originated from some cook’s playful desire either to bake a plum pudding or to elaborate a plain raisin cake. Shortly after that the mischief began. Not content with such reasonable additions as candied orange, lemon and citron peel, misguided souls began tossing in apricots, cherries (both the repulsive red and the alarming green varieties) and, finally, pineapple (available in an entire palette of unnatural hues). Nor was that the end. The thought of adding nuts—substances that are almost as subject to abuse as fruits—was more of a temptation than humankind could bear. So in they went, walnuts first, to establish the beachhead, and then the whole unrestrainable horde: pecans, almonds, brazils, macadamias, cashews, even pignolis [pine nuts].
Needless to say, this omnium gatherum approach created a problem. Since the public would be unwilling to purchase fruitcakes of a size large enough to contain all of these ingredients—and since making them smaller would raise the probability that a given fruit or nut might not find its way into a given cake—the purveyors of fruitcakes found themselves forced to choose between the two basic components of their product. The cake, of course, lost, giving rise to the now omnipresent and unavoidable holiday gift: the fruit brick.
In recent studies by the physics departments of major universities, the atomic weight of this remarkable confection has been calculated to be just below that of uranium. This extreme density, it was discovered, is due to the method by which modern fruitcakes are made. After the manufacturers abandoned the use of agglutinating agents such as flour and eggs, they developed a special bonding technique by which the fruits and nuts were compacted by a hydraulic press. This special piece of “bakery” equipment, 70 times more powerful than the ram that reduces used cars to crumpled blocks, creates in the “cake” an internal pressure so great that the fruits and nuts adhere to each other by their own molecular attraction….