"Fruitcake 101: A Concise Cultural History of This Loved and Loathed Loaf," written by Jesse Rhodes of Smithsonian.com on Dec. 21, 2010, notes that, "In spite of the goodwill and Christmas cheer fruitcakes are intended to embody, they are the running joke of the modern holiday season. Late-night comedian Johnny Carson got his digs in with lines like: 'There is only one fruitcake in the entire world and people keep passing it around.'
"In English slang, the word has come to mean someone who is eccentric or flat-out insane, while in Manitou Springs, Colorado there is an annual fruitcake toss where unwanted loaves are bid adieu by medieval means -- namely catapults. There seems to be a cultural expectation that we collectively loathe this token baked good."
The article goes on to ask, "But can fruitcake be as bad as all that?"
The people of Springfield most certainly would respond vehemently, "Absolutely not!" In fact, townspeople like John Baxley and Sylvia Hiers even rallied in support of the much-maligned holiday confection with the inaugural "Springfield Defends Fruitcake" competition and celebration of all things fruitcake on Dec. 15, 2001.
"Tired of hearing the local baked delight insulted, ridiculed, trashed and bashed, townspeople planned the first annual celebration in its defense," Hiers wrote in a column in The Times and Democrat that year. "Cooks were invited to bring samples and compete for the 'Best Fruitcake' prize."
A misguided T&D reporter in 2006 -- before she got good sense -- penned a column titled "There is no defense for fruitcake," in which she wrote: "Most people with good taste let fruitcakes cure a few years, then use them as doorstops or speed bumps. Eat fruitcake? Never! And yet, the people of Springfield actually celebrate fruitcake with an annual 'Best Fruitcake Contest,' which is an oxymoron. ... "
Well, such verbal tripe didn't phase Springfield's fruitcake lovers. Sixteen years since Springfield Defends Fruitcake was born, the town -- affectionately known as "The Little Lively" -- is getting ready to once again proudly and tenaciously defend the beloved Christmas tradition of candied fruit-and-nut-studded goodness.
On Saturday, Nov. 4, the Old Springfield School will transform into the mecca of fruitcake bakers and connoisseurs at the 2017 Springfield Defends Fruitcake competition.
The event is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Old Springfield School at 210 Brodie St., and it promises to be nothing short of "stupendous," Hiers says. The annual event raises funds for improvements to the Old Springfield School, which in the past have included acoustic panels in the auditorium, repair and painting of all windows and exterior doors.
Individuals, clubs, municipalities, businesses and others are invited to enter their prized fruitcakes in the contest for the chance to win a prize, Hiers says. Fruitcakes can be submitted any time before 10 a.m. on the day of the event. Folks can savor free samples of fruitcake and hot coffee, or purchase an entire fruitcake. They can also shop in the Artisan's Center and enjoy a lunch of soup, cornbread, pound cake and drink for just $6 between 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. A silent auction is also planned.
Visitors will no doubt come away from Springfield with a greater appreciation of fruitcake if Hiers has her way. Fruitcake is all about "taste, tradition, togetherness and toughness", she says, adding, "Those who like it are a band of brothers and sisters."
Hiers wrote about her process of baking a fruitcake in a T&D column in December 2001: "I work with ingredients of every shape, scent and color. Red, green and yellow cherry globes and circles of candied pineapple; golden raisins and bronze pecans; blocks of yellow butter and shimmering fresh eggs; snow-white flour, coconut flakes and sugar crystals all go into the mix. I pour in vanilla and recall another baker saying, 'I don't care if they embalm me with vanilla flavoring.' I add and mix, add and mix until the big bowl won't hold it all. Then I have to transfer the fruitcake batter to either the over-sized stockpot or the bathtub, and the latter just won't do.
"Blending completed, the batter gets ladled into greased, papered and greased-again pans. These go into a low-temperature oven to cook a long time. This is good because cleaning up the kitchen after this operation is no short task.
"After filling the house with a holiday smell that can't be had from a lesser effort, the cakes come out. They find their way to a cool place. Sometimes they get a soaking with wine or other spirits. And they season.
"Finally comes the best, the essential, part. This is the sharing."
Odds are Hiers and others around the area are already hard at work in their kitchens on this year's batch of the best fruitcakes ever.
To find out more about joining in the fun at this year's Springfield Defends Fruitcake, call 803-258-3764 or 258-3152.