Bangkok, December 25, 2001
Behold, the fruitcake.
In centuries past it was a staple of the European diet, prized for its nutritional value and famous (some would say infamous) longevity. In England in the late 18th century, the fruitcake — or “plumb cake” as it was called — was held in such esteem that laws forbade its consumption on all but the most festive occasions: holidays, weddings, christenings.
What a difference a few hundred years can make. These days, fruitcake is little more than a seasonal joke; the holiday gift nearly everyone receives and few actually want. The holiday question on some of our minds is what to do with the thing?
We knew that coming up with creative ways to rid our readers’ homes of fruitcakes would not be easy. Doorstop jokes aside, the humble fruitcake really can take a lot of punishment. If properly stored, fruitcakes can last up to three years — it takes more than a kitchen knife to do these suckers in.
So we assembled a team of volunteers to kick, drop and otherwise mutilate several specimens of the Yuletide confection some of us love to hate. Read on.
Test No. 1: Free-fall
We started with a ring-shaped dark fruitcake, light on the candied fruit toppings but heavy, judging from the smell of it, on the bourbon and brandy. The cake was impressively dense for its size, but we suspected that the ring shape might render it structurally unsound. For this reason we decided to go easy on it and submit it to the simplest of our trials: the drop test.
The location was the roof of a two-story house; the landing pad a concrete basketball court. In the moments before it was let fly, our team wondered if the fruitcake would shatter, bounce or remain intact. The answer was none of the above. Our first victim plummeted to the concrete and landed with a resounding thud, and from the distance of the roof it looked as if it had survived the fall unscathed. However, closer inspection revealed that three narrow cracks, like fissures in the Earth, divided the fruitcake into pieces that still clung stubbornly to their original ring shape.
Test No. 2: Heavy Metal
The next test required two things: a really big truck and someone to drive it. The vehicle in question was a 3,000-pound Ford Explorer; the driver was one Joel Schmidt. Joel embraced the opportunity to have his way with the small, rectangular cake produced for the occasion, saying that he had no pleasant memories of fruitcake, save one.
"When I was young I had this friend whose family got a big round fruitcake every year," he said. "By June it would still be sitting on top of the refrigerator. So we would take it and roll it down this steep hill. That was pretty fun. It was a summer holiday tradition. It rolled quite well, actually."
When asked if he ever ate the dessert as an adult, Schmidt demurred, saying he was "never much of a fan."
And he was willing to prove it. Smirking slightly as he took his place behind the wheel of the Explorer, Schmidt put it in first and ran slowly over the fruitcake positioned in front of the left front wheel. Not content with the damage he’d done the first time around, he backed over the cake for good measure.
"Well, that pretty much did it," he said happily, gazing down at the tire-marked, raisin-flecked smear on the asphalt. "I doubt anyone will be eating it now."
Test No. 3: The Kick
UNR kicker Damon Fine prepares
to obliterate fruitcake No. 3
Damon Fine is no slouch on the football field. The Wolf Pack place kicker distinguished himself this past season by tying one university record (for longest field goal) and breaking another (for highest number of field goals in a single game). You’d think such an accomplished athlete would hold himself above frivolous activities like, say, kicking a storebought fruitcake. But ever the sportsman, he accepted the challenge.
In addition to being a good sport, Fine was the first of our volunteers to express a heartfelt fondness for fruitcake.
"My grandmother gets one every year,” he said, “a fancy homemade one that comes in a tin. They taste pretty good. But they don’t look anything like this one."
The cake that Fine faced down on the field was a particularly colorful specimen, the top encrusted with a thick layer of candied cherries, pineapples and some unidentifiable bright green nuggets. He hefted the brick-sized cake in his hand and said that, to his surprise it was about the same weight as a football, only "way more dense."
Before taking aim, Fine warned the photographer to stand back, speculating that when he kicked the cake it would "totally explode." And explode it did, sending sticky pieces of fruit flying through the air like candied confetti.
Test No.4: Target Practice
Tired of childish games, we finally decided to put a fruitcake to a real test. Yes, it was time to bring out the big guns — literally.
Kelly and Neil Connolly, both licensed firearms instructors, agreed to meet us in an outdoor shooting area east of Sparks. The weather was fair on the appointed day, and a brisk wind blew sand around the cardboard box on which the fruitcake sat, awaiting its fate.
"Target practice with a fruitcake, this is the greatest idea," Kelly enthused. "I don’t like them, but we always end up with a few of them around Christmas time. They just sit there in the freezer. I wonder why I never thought of this before."
Husband Neil, though game for the task, was less enthusiastic about the fruitcake’s destruction.
"I love them," he said. "I eat them every year. It seems like a terrible waste of a good fruitcake. We could have brought the ones from our freezer, but the bullets probably would have bounced right off them."
Kelly started out with a Glock, her favorite handgun, and took aim at the smaller of the two fruitcakes we’d brought along. After a few near misses, she blew a chunk off one side, but to our surprise the rest of the cake remained intact and in place on the box.
For laughs, Kelly and Neil had brought along a couple of machine guns, but as the fruitcake withstood shot after shot from the Glock, they realized they might actually have to use them. A larger, even more elaborately fruited cake joined the first one on the box, and the couple pulled out the serious weapons: two M-11 fully automatic submachine guns.
They took up positions on either side of the target, promising that this double whammy was sure to pulverize the cakes, but no such luck. The larger cake proved especially resilient. Rather than shattering it into the smithereens we had expected, the volley of bullets merely nibbled at its edges. And as for the dark center of the beast, it proved too dense to lose its shape. The bullets passed right through it and out the other side. Kelly admitted she was impressed.
"That’s a really tough fruitcake."
As we packed up our equipment, the photographer suggested that we contact the Army Reserve and see if they’d drop one out of a helicopter. It was an intriguing idea, but our deadline was fast approaching and it was time to lay the fruitcakes to rest.
Oh well. Maybe next year.