The holidays are officially here. I have eaten -- make that gobbled -- a Claxton Fruitcake.
That is my idea of the holidays, not some silly radio station trying to turn my mind to mush by playing Nat King Cole singing about roasting chestnuts on an open fire for 45 days and nights.
It's the southern in me, I suppose.
You can say my menu is basic or you can tell me I have white trash taste buds, but every year about this time I require a fruitcake from Claxton, a town in southeast Georgia whose water tower proclaims it "the Fruitcake Capital of the World."
A bakery in that town of less than 3,000 has specialized in those little rectangular cakes for as long as I can remember. They are sold all over the country, but mainly they're a southern thing.
We cook our grits for days, not hours. We boil peanuts. We fry okra but when we're alone we eat them boiled and slimy. We eat catfish with our fingers. We used to pour peanuts in our soft drinks and enjoyed a Moon Pie with our RC Cola.
But around this time of the year, when the rich gourmet dishes have been consumed, we break out those store-bought fruitcakes.
The Claxton Bakery started making fruitcakes in 1910, "using nature's finest fruits and nuts." Founder Savino Tos originally operated a full-service bakery. He sold it to Albert Parker, a longtime employee, and after World War II the new owner decided to specialize in the seasonal delicacy.
The Parker family still owns the business and uses the founder's basic recipe. Why mess with success?
Claxton didn't originate the fruitcake, of course. Versions are enjoyed all over the world. In Germany, they are Stollens. In Canada, they are Christmas Cakes. In Italy, they are Panfortes. In Romania, they are Cozonacs. In Trinidad, they are Black Cakes.
In this country, they are also a punch line. Blame Johnny Carson for that. In 1985, "The Tonight Show" host mentioned fruitcakes in his monologue. "There is only one fruitcake in the world and it is passed from family to family," he said.
Jay Leno kept that premise alive.
In 2003, he tasted a 125-year-old fruitcake on the show and lived to joke about it.
No one laughs about them around here. Fruitcakes can be addictive, even if the cook doesn't soak the ingredients in rum.
I can't tell you what goes into one and it's probably best I don't know.
My benchmark is the Claxton brand.
They're a holiday tradition, fresh off the grocery store shelf. I wouldn't touch a slice in April but in November I expect to have one around the house.
Take that, Johnny Carson.
-- Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him at email@example.com.