Like clockwork, it is ridiculed and relegated to the butt of re-gifting jokes each December. And yet, we eat tons of fruit cake each Christmas.
Even Santa is ho-ho-hum on the concoction.
"It works he said," during a recent appearance with the Florida Orchestra.
As it turns out, every misunderstood loaf baked today has its roots in Hillsborough County.
"Without us, it's just cake," said Tracy Schulis, with Paradise, Inc.
From its sprawling and unassuming factory, Paradise lays claim to a nationwide winter distinction.
"All the fruit that goes into fruit cake is made here," Schulis said, noting that Paradise is the country's only candied fruit manufacturer.
Ironically, those bright red, green, and yellow candies that are essential to this winter treat come to life about as far from the North Pole as you're going to get in the U.S.A.
Schulis said the candies, as bright and unnatural looking as they wind up, all begin as real chunks of fruit. Some pieces, such as lemon and pineapple, are imported. Orange bits are pieces of peel leftover from juice plants.
"We take that byproduct and turn it into our main product," Schulis said.
The transformation from fruit to candy varies in length, but is universal in sweetness. The bits first cure as long as month and half. Then, they bathe in a sticky, bright syrup that will infuse them with sugar.
"The fruit acts as a sponge," Schulis said.
Paradise is constantly cooking, packaging, and shipping its fruit cake candies to keep pace with demand. The assembly line resembles Laverne and Shirley.
"It's pretty fast," said supervisor Juliana Vasquez.
The paradise formula is a closely held family secret, and has been since the 1960s. But its dedicated employees are certainly part of the recipe.
"We literally have generations of families that come to work here," Schulis said.
Jorge Medina, 48, is proof of the longevity. He beams with pride watching the colorful candies shift from barrel to blender to box.
"I've been doing this since I was 16 years old," he said of his job at Paradise. "The name says it all."
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