Americans send each other fruitcake over the Christmas holiday season, but does anyone ever eat it? In 1978, American humorist and food writer Calvin Trillin said that someone in Denver once told him that there is only one fruitcake and it has been sent around for Christmas since 1912. Johnny Carson (1925-2005), host of television’s The Tonight Show, often repeated the “only one fruitcake” theory. Bakeries, however, insist that it’s not true.
Wikipedia: Calvin Trillin
Calvin Marshall Trillin (born December 5, 1935) is an American journalist, humorist, food writer, poet, memoirist and novelist.
5 November 1978, The Sunday Courier and Press (Evansville, IN), “A maniac defense of American cuisine” by John Barbour (AP), pg. 6D, col. 1:
“It reminds me (author Calvin Trillin—ed.) of someody in Denver who once told me that there is only one fruitcake and it has been sent around for Christmas since 1912. Nobody has ever eaten it.”
15 October 1986, Boston (MA) Herald, “Tidbits” by Mary Grimmer, pg. 71, col. 2:
Johnny Carson tells a joke about fruitcakes in which he contends there is actually only one fruitcake, and there never has been more than one fruitcake in existence—it just keeps getting sent around and no one knows the difference.
11 January 1981, Dallas (TX) Morning News, “If you like fruitcake, you’re nutty” by John Anders, pg. f1, col. 3:
A rumor circulating out of Austin severa years ago had it that across the length and breadth of this great land there is only one fruitcake, and that this solitary fruitcake merely is sent to different households, continuously passed on like a chain letter throughout the continental United States.
16 December 1981, Dallas (TX) Morning News, “Guess what’s coming to yule dinner” by John Anders, pg. C1, col. 1:
The theory has picked up steam in recent years and is gathering momentum again this holiday season.
The theory, simply stated, is this: There is only one fruitcake in these United States, and this solitary fruitcake has been shipped around the country continuously from household to household.
No one actually eats fruitcakes. People merely give them at Christmastime. It’s a nice gesture toward someone you despise.
On rae occasions a fruitcake has turned up on our family holiday table. Everyone makes a big to-do over it but never eats it. “It’s too pretty to cut into,” some wise person will coo.
January 1982, Texas Monthly, “A Cake’s Progress,” pg. 74, cols. 1-2:
WHen we left Calvin Trillin, America’s premier fruitcake hater, the McNutts of Corsicana had threatened to send him one of their fruitcakes, Sure enough, they did, and Trillin reports he was thrilled to get it and dutifully put it back in the mail. “I sent it to my aunt Thelma who usually sends it to her uncle Ben,” he says. “It didn’t change my feeling that there is only one fruitcake, because it looked like one I had received and sent on several Christmases ago. I felt it was important to keep it on its rounds, like a man without a country.”
Volume 31, Part 2
Trillin (and later, TV star Johnny Carson) suggested that there is only one fruitcake, a world fruitcake, that passes intact from home to home.
Enough’s Enough (And Other Rules of Life)
By Calvin Trillin
New York, NY: Ticknor & Fields
The theory was that there is only one fruitcake, and that this fruitcake is simply sent on from year to year. It’s just a theory. But every year around this time, someone calls up and says something like, “I’m doing a story on people who make fun of the holiday symbols that so many Americans hold dear — symbols that do so much for warm family life in this great country of ours and remains so very meaningful to all decent people. You’re the one who maligns fruitcake, right?”
“Well, it’s just a theory,” I aways mutter. “Something someone in Denver said once.”
Who in Denver? Well, I can’t remember.
A Global History
By Nicola Humble
London: Reaktion Books Ltd
Today the ‘British-style’ fruitcake has become notorious, with comedians offering riffs on the everlasting cake (Johnny Carson suggested that there was only one fruitcake in existence, forever gifted to new ungrateful recipients).