- Associated Press - Saturday, February 25, 2017

BEATRICE, Neb. (AP) - This Christmas will mark 100 years since Grandma’s Fruitcake first made yuletides bright.

The recipe didn’t originate at the Beatrice Bakery Company, but it’s keeping the tradition alive with thousands of fruitcakes produced each year, heading to holiday celebrations around the country, the Beatrice Daily Sun (https://bit.ly/2mhPO6q ) reported.

It was 1917 when the Lantz brothers immigrated to the United States and made their way to St. Louis to open a bakery. Their grandmother’s fruitcake recipe proved to be a hit as well as a treasured family heirloom. When they retired from the baking business, they needed to find a bakery that would carry on the tradition.

“They were looking for a company to take it over that they could trust to never change the formula,” said Greg Leech, president of Beatrice Bakery Company. “They went all over the Midwest looking for a bakery and we bought the formula in the mid 60s.”

Since 1963, the same ingredients have gone into the fruitcake, using the same cooking techniques and a lot of the same equipment. Beatrice Bakery’s scales are made of cast iron, looking very much the part of a 1917 bakery. Keeping it the same was not only a promise, but one of the reasons Grandma’s Fruitcake has such staying power.

“We slow bake it at a low temperature for a long period of time,” Leech said. “Whereas our competitors, most of them, bake at a high temperature to get out as much as they can. Then we also have another secret little thing we do that I can’t disclose.”

Grandma’s Fruitcake, Leech said, is moist, but contains no water. The only liquid that goes in is a mixture of brandy, bourbon and rum, and a whole lot of fresh fruit.

There’s none of that plastic-looking, neon-colored candy fruit in their fruitcake. Just fresh pineapple, cherries, raisins_Beatrice Bakery orders raisins 16,000 pounds at a time every couple of months_and chopped nuts.

They’ll bake thousands of cakes in a day, but you don’t want to eat them fresh out of the oven, Leech said.

“We’re a unique bakery because if we run out of say, a three pound cake, we hurry up and bake it and ship it out, and that’s the worst thing we can do,” he said. “People complain that it’s too crumbly and doesn’t have the same flavor. We have to tell them, ‘That’s the problem, it’s too fresh.’”

Beatrice Baking Company also offers a line of cakes and breads, including their top-selling chocolate rum cake and Amaretto cakes. This year, Leech said, they’re working on several new projects with a pumpkin streusel cake expected to hit shelves in fall. The non-fruitcake line, he said, has doubled in sales each year for the past three years.

But even with increased sales, the vast majority of their business, year-round, is fruitcake. Fruitcake production starts back up again on Feb. 13, which, Leech said, is the perfect time to get ready for the Christmas season.

The ideal time for the fruitcake aging process is at least three months, Leech said, and they’ll be cranking them out every other day until going into fulltime production in September.

And, yes, they’ve heard the fruitcake jokes for years, but the Beatrice Bakery Company is having the last laugh.

“I don’t hear the jokes I used to,” Leech said. “I’ve been here 38 years and I used to get crank calls from radio stations at Christmas time and I don’t get that any more. I don’t think there’s as much negativity out there as there used to be.”

Some of that, he thinks, is a younger generation willing to give fruitcake a chance. They didn’t grow up surrounded by fruitcake jokes on Johnny Carson, so if they can get a younger person to try it, he thinks they’ll like it.

At specialty food shows, Leech will offer a sample to a younger person. At first they might turn their nose up at it, but he likes watching them walk away, taking a quick bite and turning back to him smiling and giving a thumbs up.

He’s surrounded by it, he’s an advocate for it and he’s made it for the last 38 years, but fruitcake isn’t exactly his favorite food.

“I’m not a big fruitcake guy,” he said, “but I’ve had every fruitcake there is, almost. There were some really bad ones, but ours is definitely the best, the moistest and I don’t have a problem with eating a slice of it. I have a problem when every other year we bring in all the competitors’ stuff and I have to try it.”

Leech said they’ve tried to find ways to convince people to try fruitcake, though, he admits, rebranding isn’t always the solution.

“About ten years ago we quit calling it Grandma’s Fruitcake and started calling it Grandma’s Fruit and Nut Cake to see if it would throw people off,” he said. “It really didn’t. Fruitcake is fruitcake.”


Information from: Beatrice Sun, https://www.beatricedailysun.com

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