Fruitcakes: Still a Hilton Head island tradition

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Fruitcakes: Still a Hilton Head island tradition

By GINA SMITH
gsmith@islandpacket.com
Published Friday, December 21, 2012   |  520 Words  |  

The poor fruitcake.

Once a holiday tradition, it's now the butt of jokes about unidentifiable fruit bits and a lengthy shelf life that rivals that of bomb-shelter staples, including water.

But don't mock the candied loaf in The French Bakery and Courtyard Cafe in Pineland Station off William Hilton Parkway.

Marek Belka, owner of the last bakery on Hilton Head Island that still bakes fruitcakes, continues the tradition -- and he does it from scratch, the same as his bread, soups and other sweet treats.

"I love them. They're delicious," said Belka, a Poland native who traces his roots through a long line of amateur bakers back in his homeland, where sweet cakes, related to the Americanized fruitcake, are eaten year-round.

He purchased the bakery six months ago and has made it a family business.

Since this year's Christmas season began, Belka, his wife, Marzena Belka; their son; and French pastry chef Johnny Philoxene have been busy soaking candied bits of raisins, apples, pineapple and cherries in rum for 24 hours, then adding them to a thick cake batter. They're then poured in a mold and placed in an old-fashioned oven with stone shelves. Finally, they're topped with sugar glaze that looks like snow and sprinkled with more candied fruit and nuts.

About 40 fruit cakes have been sold this holiday season, Belka estimates.

It's certainly not his most popular Christmas item. That title is reserved for Yule log cakes. And it may not even be his most second-most popular item. Stollens, a German cake of fruits and spices that are flatter in shape and lighter, are far more loved, he said.

But Belka contends the American fruitcake is worth a try by the uninitiated. He suggests eating it as an afternoon treat. Pour a hot cup of coffee or tea and enjoy, he suggests.

And if you don't like it, you can always leave it on the counter for someone else to eat. They remain fresh for about two weeks, according to Belka, and even longer if you freeze them.

The heavy loaves make great door stops, too.

That's what Signe Gardo, owner of Signe's Heaven Bound Bakery Cafe on Arrow Road, considered.

About 15 years ago, Gardo, the longest single owner of a restaurant in Hilton Head Island history, pulled fruticakes from her menu.

"We'd make mucho pounds of fruitcake. Too much, I guess. And then, I couldn't figure out what do with them afterwards? Door stoppers?" she said.

These days, the long-time baker has found an alternative to fruitcakes that today's patrons enjoy more - stollens.

Gardo bakes three different types, including a Southern one with pecans and raisins.

"I think we've found something better than fruitcake," she said.

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