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Stick(y)-ing to the facts on fruit cake

Since you are reading this, you are most likely geographically knowledgeable in that there are two locations in the Universe — Charleston and “off.” “Off” can be fun and interesting, however, and a nice place to visit, particularly from a culinary perspective.

Which leads me to a Christmas conundrum — fruit cake, yay or neigh? Frequently maligned and the butt of many jokes, this holiday staple, perhaps tradition (or curse) persists. Contrary to the allegation that there can be only one, which is continually re-gifted, production continues. It gallantly soldiers in both quantity and variety — and the mother lode is in Claxton, Georgia.

Many have heard of Rodney Scott’s Barbecue, but if you find yourself driving through Hemingway, you may see more vehicles in the parking lot across the street and down the road at Big Ds. In the heart of fruitcake country, there is a similar dichotomy; as this opportunistic traveler discovered off the interstate amidst miles of pecan orchards. Those of us old enough to recall family road trips and the roadside exhortations of “Pedro says to See Rock City” will also remember the Stucky Bros. oasis and pit stop.

The displays of Claxton Fruit Cake were ubiquitous among all the items available to sooth and distract the weary traveler (and offspring). To this day the brand is commonly available in grocery stores during the holiday season. However, there is competition in Claxton — not between the devil and a good ol’ boy in a fiddlin’ contest but something certain to garner the attention of Deep South souls. Down the street and around the corner lies the Georgia Fruit Cake Company, with a steady stream of vehicles entering and leaving the parking lot. Obviously there was more to the story — which to choose? Which of the varieties offered at each location was superior? Decisions, decisions … So two products acquired from each vendor only required a blind taste test — a smackdown to determine the “Ultimate Fruit Cake.”

Strangely, back in the Lowcountry the concept of a fruit cake taste test met with lukewarm enthusiasm. “Great idea! Call me next week …” Perhaps just a marketing change is needed — so called energy-bars seem little different from fruitcake, mainly in description and portion size. In any case test subjects were eventually found, captive at a Thanksgiving gathering and sufficiently lubricated to be willing participants. Four offerings were divided into sample portions served as ‘pink, green, red and orange, with results as follows: 70 percent of respondents chose green as best, 30 percent chose pink. Red and orange split the middle ground almost evenly. Comments generally indicated the green to be richer and the pink milder.

Now the scientific method demands that any evaluation should be free from human bias, so all samples were also submitted to a lab for testing. Picking a convenient lab, the first test attempt resulted in “I hear shotguns, forget this, I want doves.”

A latter, quieter presentation resulted in the following order of preference: Snorf, sniffle, sort. First, “Pink — oh boy, eating wrapper too,” followed by “Red — yum.” Then “O - there’s more? Gots to eat my Greens!,” then “might as well finish off the Orange …” She finished off all samples enthusiastically, but definitely in order.

Claxton Regular was orange, Claxton Dark was pink. Georgia Fruitcake Company (GFC) Regular was green and their Dark was the red. So in conclusion, most folks preferred the GFC Regular. Those who prefer a milder choice go for the Claxton!

Now I must confess I did not participate in the survey, though I liked the samples. I am biased and have my own receipt for fruitcake. It is my grandmother’s, extracted at length from my aunt by way of my cousin. It involves “plumping” raisins and other sordid practices, but that is a story for another day (and the truly dedicated).

All the Best,

The Wandering Omnivore

Note: No animals were harmed in this test.

Image courtesy flickr user Matthew Bitetz, CC-BY-SA-2.0

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