“Fruit cake is easily the most hated cake in the existence of baking.”


— Huffington Post

’Tis the fruitcake season, time to bake and gift, or receive and re-gift the most indestructible comestible known to man. Charles Dickens called it “a geological homemade cake.” Indeed, fruitcake has been around for centuries, since Roman soldiers carried cakes of pomegranate seeds, pine nuts and raisins mixed with barley mash on campaigns. Later spices, honey and preserved fruit were added. Ancient Egyptians buried them in tombs as fare for the afterlife. After all, how could a mummy object? No one has found the original fruitcake, but well-aged cakes still exist. Their durability is legendary. If stored in an airtight container, it is said a fruitcake could be edible for 26 years.

In 1913, the mail-order fruitcake business got its start in America. Commercially produced cakes sold in catalogs, such as the Claxton Bakery in Georgia, are often sold as a charity fundraiser. A more inventive idea for raising money and getting rid of unwanted fruitcakes is the Annual Great Fruitcake Toss, a food drive that has taken place in January in Manitou Springs, Colo., since 1994. Price of admission is one canned item per contestant. Fruitcakes are hurled, tossed or launched by a pneumatic device, such as a spud gun. Prizes are given for catching the fruitcake, accuracy hitting targets, most creative launch and best showmanship, judged by costume, decorated devices and slogans.

Fruitcakes are made in many European countries. During nut harvests in the 1700s, nuts were baked into cakes, then stored and eaten the following year to ensure another successful harvest. Immigrants from around the world brought different versions of fruitcakes to America. In the Bahamas fruitcakes are drenched in rum. Bulgarians consume fruitcakes throughout the year. Although Canadian fruitcake, aka Christmas cake, is eaten only during Christmas holidays, the Romanian fruitcake cozonac is served for all major holidays. German fruitcake is Stollen, and the Irish fruitcake is Barmback, which is eaten at Halloween and contains prizes, a ring or coin. The popular Italian Panforte, a chewy, dense Tuscan fruitcake, dates to 13th century Siena.


Weddings in England mean fruitcake, as anglophiles captivated by Downton Abbey, a British historical TV drama, well know. The series ended March 2016, but lives on in the memories of its many fans. On Nov. 18, Friends of the Library-Ponte Vedra Beach sponsored “Christmas at Downton” in the Ponte Vedra Branch library community room. “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Plants” demonstrated how to decorate for the holidays with a Downton flair, using food and flowers. There were no fruitcake arrangements, but Sisterhood partners Cathy Snyder and Marilyn Smith arranged pomegranates, pumpkins, eggplant, radishes with mums, sunflowers, roses, thistles, palmettos and other greenery using an assortment of containers, candlesticks and pedestal cake holders.

They offered tips for creating and preserving their floral designs. Working with a partner is good because one can hold things in place while the other works on the design. Snyder sat a flat bowl arrangement on a cake stand to create the look of a stemmed container. “Some are big drinkers,” Snyder said. “Not us, the flowers,” Smith quipped. So shorten stems and add plant food when you change the water to deter bacterial reaction. The afternoon included refreshments, and raffle tickets were sold for chances to win arrangements. The next Sisterhood event, “Springtime at Downton,” will be 1-3 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 24.


On Nov. 20, Downton Abbey was on the minds of members of St. Johns Questers, an organization that encourages appreciation for history and donates to preservation of historic landmarks. Ten members of the group went to St. Augustine to visit the “Dressing Downton” exhibition at the Lightner Museum. The 36 fully accessorized costumes in the exhibit come from the TV drama that won awards for costume design. They are staged in charming vignettes with turn-of-the-century fine art and furnishings from the museum’s collection. They span the time from the 1912 sinking of the Titanic to the dawn of the Jazz Age and onset of World War I, and show how British styles changed from bustles and restrictive corsets to liberating French-style fashions for women and white tie and tails for men. There is a costume for every activity and time of day.

The museum itself has a fascinating history. It was originally the Alcazar Hotel, the second St. Augustine hotel built by Henry Flagler in 1888. Its history parallels the time period and lives of the Downton Abbey series.

“This [exhibit] has been our dream; it put us on the map,” tour guide Toni Franklin said.

Upstairs/Downstairs at the Alcazar and the Dressing Downton Exhibition are two must-sees. After their tour, the Questers shopped in the Downton and museum’s gift shops, followed by lunch in what used to be the Alcazar’s pool, once the world’s largest indoor swimming pool. The Downton exhibit will be open until Sunday, Jan. 7. Tickets are $20 and reservations are recommended. Reservations for tours can be made online at www.lightnermuseum.org or call (904) 824-2874 ext. 107.


The Cypress Village Art League hosted its holiday show Nov. 18 in Egret Hall on the campus of the retirement community. The exhibit showcased the talents of the seven artists dedicated to realism that they define as “painting recognizable images with varying degrees of interpretation.” The artists — Judy Culpepper, Greta Frank, Pam Green, Angie Maisenberger, Betty McKee, Jim Moore and Cypress Village resident Diane Fraser — met while painting in a studio in the Jacksonville Five Points area and six years ago decided to form The Riverside Realists group. Although the artworks are still-life paintings of apples, oranges, family memorabilia, an old jug and everyday objects, they capture movement in the way light reflects through linen and steam rises from a cup of tea. This is their first group show. The exhibit will be open for viewing — and many of the pieces are for sale — until Thursday, Jan. 11.


No one got a hole-in-one at the inaugural Ponte Vedra Couples Scotch Championship tournament to benefit the Cultural Center at Ponte Vedra Beach; consequently no one won the men’s Rolex watch (valued at $13,400) from Underwood Jewelers. But no one seemed to care.

“We just had a good time,” said Dick Williams as he came off the course with his wife Linda. Twenty-three couples played in foursomes or six-somes in the Nov. 18 tourney at Oak Bridge Golf Club. The casual competition for all skill levels used a modified Scotch format over nine holes. A cocktail reception followed with appetizers from 3 Palms GrilleJohn Tancredi and Mary Jayne Derderian co-chaired the event.

Prizes were given for overall gross and net winners. Overall gross winners were Jim and Anita Comisky; overall net winners were Graig and Luann Dolven. The closest to the pin for men was RT Lurie and for women was Toni Chabrot.

Nevertheless, the biggest winner of the afternoon was the Cultural Center, which has a mission to bring the arts into the life of the community with exhibitions, arts education and arts outreach. It also provides “Sound Connections” music therapy outreach for children with special needs in four elementary schools in St. Johns County.


On Nov. 26, Aqua Grill at Sawgrass Village hosted an exclusive wine dinner for 50 guests to raise money for the Kate Amato Foundation, formed to fight childhood cancer. The foundation was named for the daughter of Lisa and Jeff Amato, who died of Rhabdomyosarcoma at age 11. Kate was 9 years old when diagnosed and was treated at Wolfson Children’s Hospital for two years before entering a clinical trial, Lisa said. Her daughter’s illness “affected all of us in different ways. It wreaked havoc socially, financially, physically and emotionally.”

Aqua Grill owner Cary Hart got involved after playing in a Marsh Landing golf tournament organized by Alan Henderson. The tourney raised money to help with Kate’s medical expenses and now has become the Kate Klassic, which will help fund the foundation. Another fundraising tournament was played Nov. 27.

“Aqua Grill is helping the foundation raise money to help future families that have to face this horrific situation,” Hart said. “Personally helping young innocent souls fighting cancer is one of the most important endeavors to me.”

“This community was extraordinary to our family during Kate’s illness, and I believe the community will rally around the foundation and help us fund innovative research that saves lives,” Lisa said. To learn more about the foundation, go to www.KateAmatoFoundation.org.


Forty-seven percent of folks who get fruitcakes as gifts throw them away. Eleven percent regift them. Late night show host Johnny Carson said, “There is only one fruitcake in the entire world, and people keep sending it to each other.” Repurposing ideas for the other 42 percent include using them as doorstops, bookends, paperweights, bird feed and pothole fillers. Perhaps excess Beaches fruitcakes would make sturdy dune retention walls.

Not everyone hates fruitcakes. The slang definition — a crazy or eccentric person — derives from the dense cake’s main ingredients of candied fruit, nuts and liquor. As humorist Jon Ronson said, “Friends are the fruitcake of life — some nutty, some soaked in alcohol, some sweet.”And singer Jimmy Buffett would agree, as his song Fruitcakes says, “There’s a little bit of fruitcake left in every one of us … The cosmic bakers took us out of the oven a little too early. That’s the reason we’re as crazy as we are. We need more fruitcakes in this world.”

Jackie Rooney is a freelance writer in Ponte Vedra Beach. Contact her at rooneybin@comcast.net.