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 CNS Story:

FRUITCAKE Dec-8-2004 (810 words) xxxn

Trappist monks win praise for fruitcake -- a Christmas tradition

By Kathleen Choi
Catholic News Service

HONOLULU (CNS) -- The English call it Christmas cake. Aussies ask for Celebration cake, but whatever the name, and despite the jokes associated with it, fans buy 21 million fruitcakes a year.

And in reviews for the best fruitcakes, one name stands out -- Trappist. Fruitcake from Trappist monasteries wins the praises of gourmet food reviewers everywhere.

The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and Washington Post daily newspapers and Sunset, Newsday, and Gourmet magazines all recommend fruitcake made at Our Lady of Guadalupe Monastery in Lafayette, Ore.

The Trappists there claim that their fruitcakes are "heavy, rich cakes -- not so much dough as there are fruit and nuts. The dough itself is rich, not 'cakey' or airy. The fruitcake contains pineapple, cherries, raisins, California walnuts, honey, pecans, and whole fresh eggs from our neighbor's farm."

It's baked for three hours, dipped in brandy, and aged for three months. Reviewers call it rich, nutty, moist and not too sweet.

Cake sales provide about 25 percent of the monastery's annual income. A link to Guadalupe Monastery and other Trappist monasteries can be found on the Internet at www.monasterygreetings.com.

In a telephone interview with the Hawaii Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Honolulu Diocese, Trappist Brother Patrick Corkrean said preparing gourmet food "seems to work as a monastic industry, since it seems easy to establish some kind of niche."

And although the bakers at Guadalupe work hard, they still cannot supply all the fruitcake Christmas shoppers demand. Fortunately, other Trappist communities produce their own versions.

The monks at Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville, Va., "unconditionally guarantee that their fruitcake is the best you'll ever eat or cheerfully refund your money." The abbey's Web site is www.monasteryfruitcake.org.

The monks' fruitcake business at Holy Cross Abbey began when one of the brothers started making cakes for abbey benefactors and friends. In 1985, with income from bread sales dropping, the brothers began marketing the fruitcake. They have steadily expanded their production to almost 25,000 cakes annually.

This year they added "fraters" (frater is "brother" in Latin), which are slices of fruitcake dipped in chocolate. Cakes are $25 and a box of fraters is $22. Demand outstrips production, and the staff isn't getting larger or younger. One published report says the brothers hope to eventually shift to honey as their main product.

The oldest Trappist community in the United States is the Abbey of Gethsemani in Trappist, Ky. Its monks, too, produce a fabulous fruitcake, which can be ordered at www.gethsemanifarms.org. The Wall Street Journal voted it the "best overall" for quality and value in 1998. The Food Network on cable TV spread the news farther.

The secret, according to its bakers, is the Kentucky bourbon that permeates the fruit and nuts. The brothers also sell cheese and bourbon fudge and have a more than 100,000 customers.

The other Trappist powerhouse in the fruitcake world is Assumption Abbey in Ava, Mo. The fruitcake is so popular that they no longer even advertise it. Last year they sold 30,000 two-pound fruitcakes steeped in burgundy and rum.

Trappist Brother Chaminade Crabtree from the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Ga., said his monastery recently became involved in fruitcake production as a way to "create income for our growing expenses, particularly in the area of health of our elder monks."

"Fruitcakes seemed like the logical choice when we looked at the success of the other monasteries," he told the Hawaii Catholic Herald.

Monks, of course, don't brag. But he was quick to add that his monastery makes "one of the best fruitcakes on the market."

Trappist Brother Basil Arsenio, who worked on the recipe for the fruitcake and manages the bakery at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, said this particular cake is not "typical or traditional."

"When people taste it, they get that warm taste in the throat and then they get a warm aftertaste," he added.

That taste is not reserved solely for the customers either. As Brother Chaminade put it: "We know self-denial, but we also know celebration."

Most of the 35 brothers at the Abbey of the Genesee in Piffard, N.Y., take some part in making Monks' Bread, which they have sold locally and through their store for quite awhile. However, Brother Theodore Daly found that he had some free time, so he began making cakes as well. He sells most of them from the monastery's own store.

"The philosophy I have been following is to produce a quality cake at a comparatively low price," Brother Theodore said. "I only make about 3,500 fruitcakes a year. I think that the cakes which I make have a characteristic fruit mix in that I have more cherries and use more raisins and dates, and some of the cakes have a pronounced flavor."


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