Fruitcake anyone?

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Is there a food product more ridiculed and parodied during the holidays than the fruitcake?

By Neila Schuhmann

Most people have been on the receiving end of the infamous fruitcake during the holidays. Oftentimes, the recipient is left wondering what, if anything, to do with the hard, dense dessert.

But for the Hardesty family, fruitcake is a family tradition that the whole family loves making - and eating.

Pat Hardesty said his mother, the late Ermon Hardesty, had made fruitcakes with the family for as long as he can remember.

A few years ago, his sister, Hughetta Dale of Beaver Dam, found the recipe their mom used stuffed in an old recipe book. Pat's wife, Ema, believes it had been clipped from an old magazine - probably Progressive Farmer - many years ago.

Ermon Hardesty died nearly two years ago. Her late husband, Harold Hardesty, who died about eight years ago, was a huge fan of the holiday dessert, according to Pat and Ema.

"The Christmas before his dad passed away, he said 'I want you and Ema to take on this tradition,'" Ema recalls. "We've done pretty well keeping it up."

Though Pat confesses, "There's been a few years Hughetta came in to help."

In creating the annual holiday treat, the Hardesty family gathers in the kitchen. Each person is assigned a task. There's the chopping of nuts, the chopping of fruit, mixing, pouring sugar.

"Everybody would be chopping ..." Pat said.

Then there's the fruit salad to go along with fruitcake. Ema says the two compliment each other well.

"I like the cake by itself," Pat said. "Ema likes it with the fruit salad."

"His dad had a sweet tooth," Ema said, "so he would be in charge of the sugar."

"Hughetta didn't like it sweet," Pat said. "But Dad would always win. Dad didn't have a sweet tooth. He had sweet teeth."

Pat recalls the days when he was a child, and his father would do the ingredient shopping since his mother didn't drive.

"Sometimes he'd buy walnuts (already shelled). Sometimes we'd crack them," he said.

Ema says that creating the family treat is easier today than it was back then. With packaged nuts and fruits already chopped to size and ready-crushed graham crackers, the recipe has become simpler.

Except for mixing the sticky concoction.

"You gotta mix it up with your hands," Ema said. "So, I let Pat do that. It takes a big bowl."

"It's sticky," Pat said.

Even though the fruitcake recipe is a family tradition at Christmas, both Pat and Ema admit that they don't care for other fruitcakes.

"This is the only fruit cake that I do," Pat said.

Ema says the cake is heavy and doesn't have a "cake-like" texture.

Pat admits that fruitcake is not for everyone.

"You just may have to be a Hardesty to like it."

- Social Writer Neila Schuhmann can be reached at 465-5297 or by e-mail at cknj@cknj.com.

Mom's Fruitcake


1 c. evaporated milk (save rest of can for later)

4 c. miniature marshmallows

6 T. orange juice

Mix the above together and set aside.

In large bowl mix:

8 c. graham cracker crumbs (2 boxes)

1/2 t. cinnamon

1/2 t. nutmeg

1/4 t. cloves

1 c. regular raisins

1 c. golden raisins

2 c. chopped dates

1 10-ounce jar maraschino cherries (finely cut 1/2 jar and save 1/2 jar for the top, save juice)

2 1/2 c. walnuts, chopped finely (save several halves for the top)

Mix together with hands, add rest of evaporated milk with a little bit more orange juice until mixture is moist.

Line a large round Dutch oven type pan with plastic wrap; leave enough hanging over the sides to completely cover the cake.

When mixture is moist and thoroughly mixed, press mixture into the bottom of the lined pan. Put a juice glass in the middle to form cake around it. Pour a little bit of the reserved cherry juice over the top. Bring plastic wrap over the top and cover with lid. Place cake in refrigerator. Every day, pour a little orange juice or cherry juice on top to keep it moist. Keep cake wrapped. Make at least one week before you want to serve it.

This fruitcake tastes great along with fruit salad.