When Good Fruitcakes Go Bad

I keep a pretty clean house.

I bath regularly.

So I wondered why there were so many little flies buzzing around me?

Up until a few weeks ago, I never had a problem with insects, save for the nightly attacks of mosquitoes (the bane of Parisian summers). So I was wondered why I had so many little visitors flitting about my kitchen.


Every year I make fruitcakes, and last year was no exception. I spend hours candying orange and grapefruit peel as well as making spicy, candied ginger, which I chop up into toothsome nuggets. I make a buttery batter packed full of brilliant-green Sicilian pistachios, and use my precious stash of rich, crunchy Macadamia nuts sent to me by friends in Hawaii.

Then batter gets divided into molds of various sizes and baked in anticipation of holiday gift-giving. (Note to future recipients: The size determines how much I feel indebted to you…so plan your gift-giving accordingly.)

Once-cooled, I soak the cakes with a heady pour of Cognac, then wrap them neatly in French linen, known as étamine. Then faithfully, each month, I brush the gauzy wrap with a fresh dose of Cognac, re-wrap them, then revisit them monthly to repeat the process.

Last week, I did my ritualistic unveiling of my lovely fruitcakes to give them their regular dose of Cognac.

As I pulled back the wrapping, something felt oddly unfamiliar, and an uneasy sense of dread spread over me. The cakes didn’t feel solid.

Nor did they even feel like cakes.

Well, words can’t really describe what I was feeling, so I’ll simply share…


Oh la vâche!, as we say.

This was perhaps the most horrible thing I’d seen in a long, long time.
Flies buzzed, hovered and swooped around the almost-unrecognizable bricks of cake, frothy mold seeped and fizzed from every pore, and little wriggly…well…since you may be eating while you read this, I’ll stop there, but you get the message (and hopefully share my pain.)

I’m certain le canicule, the heatwave of July, was responsible. It heated everything up, including my cakes, and turned them into a messy mayhem of mold and mouches (flies).

I made a beeline for the elevator to the garbage area on the ground floor of my building, praying the elevator wouldn’t stop to let someone else on. If it had, I don’t know how I would have explained what happened. Or the stink. Luckily I arrived tout seule, and with semi-regret, flung the whole she-bang in la poubelle, slammed down the lid, and beat a hasty retreat.


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  • September 10, 2006 7:12am

    The damages from this summer are still being uncovered. It turned all of my chocolate a nasty shade of orange, almost killed the mirabelle tree, inundated us with cepes, and more. I’m very sorry to hear you lost your fruitcakes.

  • September 10, 2006 7:22am

    Hmmm, more cepes? That’s a good thing.

    So maybe I shouldn’t think that I lost a bunch of fruitcakes, but gained a lot of mushrooms instead.
    Still, your ‘shrooms perhaps would make a tastier risotto than mine.

  • September 10, 2006 9:02am

    Mes condoléances. Incroyable. To think that the heat in all over Paris was greater than the heat in Atlanta!!

    Will you start the whole process again or forgo the fruitcake tradition this year?

  • September 10, 2006 10:26am

    Now if I had made that fruitcake this whole situation would have been humorous, but you, the master, well, it saddens me and makes me a bit p.o.’d at mother nature herself AND those pesky flies.

    Perhaps one day I’ll share the trauma of last month’s attempt at grilling, only to find a GIANT rat who got stuck underneath my grill with a peach pit from my tree in its mouth…we didn’t notice it until THE SMELL….

    I’m going to go wash now.

  • September 10, 2006 11:41am

    Oh my. OH MY. I feel for you, I really do. What a tragic waste of all that effort and scrumptious cake. I even know what was wriggling (farm life). It was definitely the heat. All my chocolate chips melted this summer!

  • September 10, 2006 11:44am

    beuuuuaaaaaaarg …

  • rainey
    September 10, 2006 1:43pm

    All that work and anticipation and affection for the eventual recipients! The same thing would make me crazy.

    I admire that you’ve moved on. I can still remember and grieve for a red corduroy jacket I made for my daughter that disappeared the first time she wore it to pre-school. She’s a junior at Cal as I type.

  • Alisa
    September 10, 2006 2:05pm

    ohhhh, that so sucks

  • Dori
    September 10, 2006 2:08pm

    The biggest reason yet to do something about global warming!!!

  • September 10, 2006 2:20pm

    Damn global warming!

    That is, by far, the nastiest thing I’ve read in a long time. My condolences on the loss of your fruitcakes after all that hard work.

    Pehaps you could make everyone Rice Krispie treats for Christmas instead?

  • September 10, 2006 3:55pm

    On the serious side, this is such an incredible shame and waste of wonderful ingredients, lovingly prepared.

    On the lighter side, maybe this highlights the need for insurance companies to make a “fruitcake rider” available on their homeowners’ and renters’ policies?

  • melina
    September 10, 2006 5:27pm

    Hi David,
    sorry about your fruitcakes. Here in Canada we store the fruitcakes in the freezer. W
    rap them well in wax paper and plastic wrap and aluminum
    foil and they stay fresh and edible for even a year.
    I do it all the time and there is no compromise in flavor.Try it.
    Regards, Melina

  • September 10, 2006 5:37pm

    Ah David,
    That is really truly gross. How sad to discover you’ve been nurturing a maggot farm. (Let’s see if that one starts showing up in the Google search results!)

  • barb
    September 10, 2006 8:26pm

    ahh, david, i do feel your pain…it brought back recent memories of an entire tray of lovingly prepared lasagna, (which i made, at his request, to ease my niece’s boyfriend’s month long stay in the hospital after a motorcycle accident), which she first dropped on the asphalt of the parking lot, and then dropped in ‘the poubelle’…and he never got a bite of it…merde, such are the trials and tribulations in the life of a dedicated chef!

  • Connie
    September 10, 2006 11:47pm

    Make Panforte and drink the Cognac ,…… how sad for you………reminds me of the time I made toxic tomatoes but that is too long story.
    Press on David.

  • Annie
    September 11, 2006 2:08am

    Oh David, I’m so sorry. All that work. I won’t share my sad story, but I do wish you a peaceful nights sleep, dreaming of sugarplums, that sweet picture of Frederick and last year’s fruitcakes.

  • Alphonse the Noble
    September 11, 2006 3:22am

    Sincere and deepest condolences – how very frustrating ,and frankly, you don’t deserve that sort of disaster – you’re too nice a guy. Incidentally, can we return to the smiling happy picture of you seated cross-legged in your chair? The one at the top right of your column is too serious and dull and does not do your happy nature justice. Ever your friend, with hugs and kisses – ATN. (P.S: I must say MATT’s rat ckoked on a peach stone is truly gross – poor MATT – hugs to you, too)

  • September 11, 2006 10:34am

    Oh. My. God. I’m so totally grossed out for you. And also a little bit gobsmacked at how diligent you are for starting your holiday baking in the summer.

  • September 11, 2006 1:27pm

    Hmm, it seems to me that a little less cognac for you and a little more for the cakes might have prevented the problem… that is, unless you’ve become host to the world first alcoholic maggots! My condolences, regardless…

  • Phil
    September 11, 2006 2:49pm

    Had a similar surprise last year. We brought cheese from a different Fromagerie (we live in the 7th and usually shop in Barthelemy, but it was August).

    Ate half of it on the first evening, and left the other half in a nice cool place (not the fridge). Lifted the lid the next evening, and were greeted by a swarm of flies, and the site of a truly living, wriggling, cheese….!

    We daren’t think what state the cheese was in the night before, probably an increased protein/fat ratio.

    Followed your recomendation and tried Bellota-Bellota on Friday – brillliant – a very enjoyable time (and far too much wine to recall the detail). Next week we may follow more of your advice and head down to L’Atlas. We appear to be having a non-French month…!

  • September 11, 2006 3:26pm

    aaah horrible!!!
    that fruitcake picture looks so good I really wasn’t expecting a failure post!
    I’m really sorry for you, but luckily your flies have left now…
    are you making new ones now that winter is coming?? =)

  • anne
    September 11, 2006 4:28pm

    time to get airconditioning? but that would keep you away from having to visit les jeunes hommes at the levi’s store during the canicule/les soldes…

  • September 11, 2006 7:08pm

    Ah, David, I am a faithful reader but do not comment often. This story breaks my heart. Good fruitcakes are harder to find than Fleur de Sel de Guérande at Ralph’s. I’m sure you are familiar with Capote’s ‘A Christmas Memory’ — there’s always a next year, I hope.

  • Melissa
    September 11, 2006 11:00pm

    Oh, no! I’m sorry to hear about your fruitcakes.

    My potatoes (purchased just last week) suffered a similar squishy fate over the weekend, while I was out of town.

  • September 19, 2006 12:07am


    THAT was gross.