PITTSFIELD -- She is well-jeweled and perhaps at first glance even beautiful to some eyes. But don't let looks deceive you. Beneath that glittery and sugar-coated exterior exists a drunken cold soul that fights you at every turn. This gal is tougher than an advanced calculus class. What segues me from my usual tender Irish perspective and boils my Gaelic blood? It's the traditional American fruitcake, that time-honored but booze-soaked excuse for a holiday staple that offers little, if any, cheer.
I once purchased a hefty block of hard cheddar cheese, and I was still cutting off pieces and nibbling at it some six months after it had reached the friendly confines of my fridge. But legend has it that there have been fruitcakes that were made prior to the Industrial Age and still consumed after that time period.
I don't trust any food that can be mail-ordered. Brides, yes. But food, no.
If memory serves, I think my eyes first cast a glance at a fruitcake when I was still in single digits. My grandmother, on my mother's side of the family, was an O'Malley. She married a French-Canadian whose last name was Martin. From what I can gather from the history of fruitcakes, it was probably my Pittsfield Nana who set that dizzying masterpiece of a delicacy on her dining room table during the holidays. Mom, in turn, followed suit.
I'm not here to either blast any cultural traditions or chisel away at generational sentiment or fond memories. But, again, if memory serves I can guarantee that the fruitcake wasn't. I always remember it still being intact on that same table as the Christmas season came to a close. It had remained without wounds during the holiday season battle that was the hand-to-hand combat that occurred daily around the table that held all the treats.
There were few "goodies" on those family dining room tables that weren't ravaged by New Year's Day, but those fruitcakes stood taller than Tom Brady in a collapsing pocket. Its reputation preceded it; there seemed to be no evidence of any savage thrusts with knife or fork. Few dared.
Even those red and green things on top -- I thought at first they were jellybeans -- seemed to never lose one within their ranks. The resolve of a fruitcake is made of cast iron. If treated with a minimum of care, then a fruitcake can last years. And I believe it, because every Christmas' new edition seemed to resemble greatly the cake of the year before.
A true fruitcake is traditionally made by soaking it in brandy. I've known people who are like that around the holidays. That recipe, however, works better on the cake than it does on humans. A simple X-ray will reveal that a fruitcake has no liver. Score one for the fruitcake. Otherwise, I see no attributes in its character. It's too big for a paperweight and too bulky to serve as a doorjam.You could saw it in half and use it as a puck for pond hockey.
Fruitcakes, I've learned, are made around the world and in some cases have sliced their way into the public's consciousness by being both a cultural and seasonal fixture.
That's all well and good. But there are no great Bible passages regarding fruitcake and no great works of literature that are fruitcake-themed. There have been neither rock songs nor singing groups with the word fruitcake front and center.
Do you know what really bugs me about fruitcakes? They are nothing but egotistical frauds. They walk on stage like Elvis and sing like Mr. Magoo. That I can do without. A fruitcake with an attitude is not acceptable.
Brian Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com