The Independence Fruitcake Festival and its theme, “20,000 Leagues under the Sea,” was almost overshadowed last Saturday night by the appearance of an oil slick. Yes, an oil slick!
To paraphrase James Louis Petigru, a lawyer, politician, and jurist in antebellum South Carolina, “Independence is too small to be a city and too big to be an insane asylum.” Some might take exception to that comment but, truth be told, if you had been in Independence last Saturday night, you might be convinced that the town of Independence was in fact one large lunatic asylum given the number of fruitcakes on hand at the Fruitcake Festival.
Your first warning that this might be a crazy evening came with the sighting of a bright yellow warning sign with the large red biohazard symbol and the wording “BIOHAZARD: INFECTED SPECIMEN.” The warning is required by law to be posted whenever there may be a serious health risk or known hazard…and here it was prominently displayed on the table next to the tables laden with fruitcakes! At least no one could say you were not warned!
During the “tasting” of the oldest fruitcake, you could almost hear ominous sounds in your head warning about biohazards … although more likely it was because someone kept playing spooky music on the electronic organ as “volunteer” Zabeth Runyan, a cultural resource intern from Manzanar Historic Site, was chosen by King Neptune (a.k.a. Bryan Kostors, the Fruitcake King). After the “tasting,” Runyon was advised to not allow herself to fall asleep and that her friends should check on her every hour through the night by shouting “What’s your dog’s name?” to make sure she responded and had not lapsed into a coma.
Fruitcake has a colorful history and there is no end of ideas on its use. Some have suggested that the fruitcakes be fired from drones instead of explosives or as ballast on large sailing vessels. Small fruitcakes can be used in place of lead weights on SCUBA belts while larger ones are said to make excellent boat anchors. Soft fruitcake, although rare, can be used as caulking for major hull leaks if cured properly. Although often mistaken for whale droppings, it was noted by one automotive expert that large, round fruitcakes with holes drilled into them for lug nuts can be used as emergency spare tires on cars (or boat trailers) and can be driven for up to 30,000 miles.
The returning judges this year were Dean Stout, Brian Lamb, and Kevin Carunchio. The winners in the adult category were: “Most Solids”? Sharon Avey’s Amish Fruitcake, “Traveled Farthest”? Don Bright’s 12,492 miles traveled, “Oldest”? Judy Palmer’s fruitcake from December 2012, “Best of Theme”?Stephen Church of San Diego with his “Sunken Shipwreck, “Judges Award”?Janice Odum’s fruitcake described as “It looks a little weird to me” by the judges, and “Honorable Mention” was awarded to Gayle Woodruff.
In the Junior category, the “Best of Theme” was awarded to Bishop Seventh Day Adventist, 4th-8th grades and Naiya Warren of Independence won the “Judges Award” for her orange peel, ginger, toasted coconut fruitcake for which the judges had one comment: “Delish!”
David Woodruff with the Fort Independence Travel Plaza donated a Spirit Bear blanket which was awarded to Janice Odum, the winner of the Judge’s Award. The Eastern California Museum donated 2014 calendars to all the winners, and the Baxter Ranch (purveyors of local honey and peppers) donated chileno peppers.
China Ranch Date Farm donated 5 bags of various varieties of dates for the winners and McDonalds donated the prizes for the Junior Winners, which will be distributed to the Seventh Day Adventist School “Fruitcake Bakers.”
Liberty Orchards in the great state of Washington, the ancestral home of the Fruitcake King, donated their famous Apple-Walnut & Apricot-Walnut Candies described as the blossom-fresh flavor of crisp Washington apples, the tangy goodness of ripe apricots (locally known as “cots”), and the nutty richness of crunchy English walnuts which they say has made their namesake Aplets and Cotlets their top sellers since 1920.
Michael Pietrobon always makes time in his busy schedule to be our Master of Ceremony. According to one of the event organizers, “If he can’t do it because of scheduling conflicts in the future, we will all need therapy because he is the best MC we have ever had.”
Fruitcakes are famous for being “recycled” or “regifted.” So too with the decorations used for the Fruitcake Festival. Many have been donated for use in an elementary school classroom.
About that oil slick that threatened the festival, that was Linda Ellsworth’s “Best Costume Based on Theme.” Dressed in a black plastic trash bag with a dark, long-haired wig and painted face, Ellsworth wowed the crowd with her creative thinking. Who would have ever thought an oil slick would be so popular!
The Independence Civic Club thanks all that supported this year’s Fruitcake Festival and wish everyone a fruitcake-filled holiday!