Cherished tradition: I am finally doing it this year

Published 10:40 am Friday, November 8, 2019

I haven’t tasted a Jane Parker Fruit Cake in years, in decades really. The last time was when my father took his second and last airplane ride to Chicago to spend Thanksgiving there with us. He brought three of those cakes with him; one for Jacqueline, one for me and one for the guests we said.

His response to that was, “guess” who the third one is for.

I don’t know anyone who grew up in Vicksburg going to the A&P who didn’t have and love that Jane Parker Fruit Cake at Thanksgiving and at Christmas.

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It came in three sizes; the loaf, for $1.99, I think; the medium round for $3.99, and the sumptuously large round one for $5.99. My father never forgot that three of them had cost him $20.

My mother used to tell me she was present at my first imbibing of alcohol when I tasted her Jane Parker Fruit Cake saturated with her homemade wine.

Today, the prices for that cake are outrageous; $50.00 for the medium on Amazon, and near $70 for the large. But I’m going to do it anyway, and so will many others who remember going to the A&P at this time of year in search of that “Holy Grail.”

There’s just not another cake like that. And there never will be.

Reports from all over the Internet say hidden mounds of raisins have taken the place of the nut-and-fruit-chock-filled original we all loved. Undoubtedly, some memories are more accurate than others; undoubtedly, some senses are too.

But the sad thing here is that this fruit cake is inaccessible in stores. Desire and demand have dropped as its celebrants age out.

Put simply, there are no such cakes for those of us still here who want them. So we have to pay the price.

Traditions become traditions because they outlast people. They go on when we do not. So Jane Parker Fruit Cake needs its audience again, one like barbecue and catfish, that will go on and on.

I guess it must be difficult to renew a franchise elsewhere, otherwise, Walmart or Kroger’s would have picked it up by now. But A&P’s not coming back. So why not another franchise? Another way to get it here. Reportedly, though, two brothers bought the rights before the grocery chain went bankrupt.

I love reading wives’ letters in pursuit of this gift for their husbands who have told them what it was like, how good it was, and how they wish for it again.

New generations need a taste, and ways to pass it on. It really is, or was, that good. And seldom do you find such a consensus about anything.

I hope someone will do a history of this fruit cake, a study of its development and its huge commercial success. It’s a story that begs telling. Not even the “holy” ones made painstakingly in monasteries can compare.

So I hope that it comes back.

Like the turkey and cranberry, it just belongs this time of year.

Yolande Robbins is a community columnist for The Vicksburg Post.