Nobody wanted to eat this fruitcake, not for 350 years. But it’s far from unwanted.
This “ancient fruitcake” is the title of an upcoming presentation at the Oak Harbor Library, “The Ancient Fruitcake: What Really, Really Old Food Tells Us about History, Culture, Love and Memory.”
The presentation will delve into unusual examples of food that has been discovered after decades, well-preserved and with interesting stories behind them.
Harriet Baskas will lead the talk starting at 3 p.m Tuesday, Dec. 4. The event is free and open to the public.
Baskas is an author and speaker from Seattle who was general manager for three community radio stations in the Northwest.
“That fruitcake became a family heirloom,” Baskas said. “The grandmother made this fruitcake and then died not long after. Nobody wanted to eat the fruitcake, so it was kept as a memorial — handed down from generation to generation.”
Her presentation will feature more than 50 examples of old food, including a discovery by archaeologists who found once-tasty morsels buried with mummies, a petrified banana which earned its own “Banana Museum,” 2000-year-old bog butter and a pickle preserved in a jar since the 1860s.
Some of her most memorable food stories have come from audiences themselves when she’s given this talk.
One man talked about how his brother was a major hoarder, and one day he had to get something out of his sibling’s house.
“He found every single Easter bunny they’d ever gotten,” Baskas said. “(The brother) had saved every one and they were all laid out in a desk drawer.”
Another woman talked about how she and her family were from Russia, but one year she was away from home in America.
Her mother made a traditional dessert for her, but died that same day.
“She asked her sisters to keep it in the freezer for her,” Baskas said. The lady eventually went back to Russia to eat her mother’s last gift, but after hearing Baskas’s presentation, said she really wished she had kept some of it.
“It’s things like that, people can share funny stories or personal stories,” Baskas said.
“People should come by. It’ll really make you think.”
As for the supposedly immortal Twinkies? Yes, they really are pretty immortal, Baskas suspects. One man who experimented with saving food said that the packaging was decomposing faster than the Twinkies themselves.
Baskas owns one small piece of ancient food herself — a sliver of Paul Bunyan’s birthday cake from the Seattle World’s Fair display.
This event is also a “chew and chat,” so refreshments will be provided and the audience is encouraged to participate by sharing their own interesting food stories.
Fruitcake will be provided — but don’t worry, it’ll be from this century.
Sno-Isle Managing Librarian Mary Campbell said Baskas is a excellent public speaker. Campbell said she expects the presentation to go well and to bring in between 30 and 50 attendees.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Campbell said.
“I’m bringing the fruitcake.”
• “The Ancient Fruitcake” is 3 p.m. at Oak Harbor Library, located at 1000 S.E. Regatta Drive. Call 360-675-5115 or visit sno-isle.org for information.
Note: The following has been added as an edit for the online version of this story:
This event is supported by Humanities Washington, a statewide nonprofit that supports hundreds of free, public events across Washington State. A full roster of 2019 speakers can be found at www.humanities.org/program/speakers-bureau.