Q and A with Ric Seaberg

by: KATIE HARTLEY, Out of the business for more than a decade, former bakery owner Ric Seaberg still is touchy about fruitcakes. When baked properly and eaten sparingly, he says, they can make treasured gifts, not dreaded regifts.

Every Friday, the Portland Tribune puts questions to a prominent - or not so prominent - local person.

Ric Seaberg owned Richard's Bakery in Tualatin for 10 years and Favourites Bakery in Northeast Portland for 10 years after that. He's been out of the bakery business since 1995, but he's still fed up.

Singer-songwriter Seaberg, who lives in Northeast Portland, is sick and tired of the jokes and criticism and downright denigration of a Christmas-season concoction he used to spend hours lovingly producing. And he's fighting back.

Portland Tribune: Tell us about Favourites.

Ric Seaberg: We had a full-line bakery, a pretty busy spot back in the day. We made everything from doughnuts to wedding cakes.

Tribune: Yes, but we both know why we're here. You made fruitcakes, didn't you?

Seaberg: We did. We made great fruitcakes. We made thousands of fruitcakes every year. We always heard the jokes about fruitcakes, like, my dear brother-in-law Tom once asked me, 'How many doorstops are you going to make this year?'

Tribune: Any others?

Seaberg: 'I've worked in ER at a hospital, and I've seen what fruitcake can do to a person.'

Tribune: And as a baker, how did those jokes make you feel?

Seaberg: It's unfair to just lump all fruitcakes as one product and say it's all crap. It's not all crap. If you put great ingredients in, it's going to be great.

Tribune: Maybe you just hit on the problem. You used the word lump. Anyway, is it true that the Los Angeles Times referred to you as the 'father of the fruitcake revolution'?

Seaberg: I wrote a tract called 'In Defense of Fruitcake' almost 20 years ago, and that little piece has had a life of its own. It just pops up every now and then in newspapers across the country and on the Internet.

Tribune: As the father of a revolution what do you have to do?

Seaberg: We made a bunch of T-shirts with the international insignia for No Fruitcake Jokes.

Tribune: And I see you're wearing a beret. Very revolutionary. So let's hear your defense.

Seaberg: If you use wonderful ingredients, fruitcake is going to be good. If you use the main culprit that makes fruitcake terrible, used by grannies and wholesalers and everyone in between - candied citron - then your fruitcake is going to be crap.

Tribune: So why does everybody use candied citron?

Seaberg: It's tempting to use inexpensive ingredients because fruitcake is so expensive to bake. That one fruitcake that keeps getting passed around from family to family, regifted like it's the only fruitcake in the world, is loaded with citron.

The entire concept of regifting began with fruitcake, by the way.

Tribune: Did anyone ever try to return a fruitcake from one of your bakeries?

Seaberg: I never had anyone bring a fruitcake back because we made great fruitcake. The beauty of it is, the day you make a fruitcake, it's a great day. Sometimes I would have a chef come and make food for the crew because it takes all day long.

Tribune: How can it take so long to make a fruitcake when the candy and nuts are already done?

Seaberg: First, you put all your ingredients, like 300 pounds of fruit and nuts, on your workbench. Then you put the batter on top of it, and then you and your bakers start turning it all by hand, carefully so you don't bruise the fruit.

When that's all put together you bake it at very low temperature for hours. An hour before it's done you take it out and dress the top with more fruit and nuts and sort of push it into the cake. When it comes out you put an apricot glaze on top.

That's the one day you're going to have your oven set to such a low temperature that you can't do any other baking.

Tribune: So how much did your citronless fruitcake cost?

Seaberg: Back in those days it was at least $5 a pound. These days it's more like $10 a pound for a good fruitcake.

Tribune: Aha. You price them by the pound. That explains the, shall we say, heftiness of some of the fruitcakes I've had. What makes them so heavy, by the way?

Seaberg: They're mostly fruit and nuts and just enough batter to hold it together. And you're not supposed to sit down and eat a whole fruitcake in one sitting.

You're supposed to slice it thinly and ceremoniously and have it with a nice cup of coffee or tea, maybe in the evening by the fire.

Tribune: You don't have young children around the house, do you?

Seaberg: No, but that's the plan, anyway. And me and my fruitcake warriors are sick and tired of the jokes.

Tribune: What are you going to do about it? Hit me with a five-pound fruitcake?

Seaberg: Don't mess with me, man. The legions of fruitcake aficionados are revolting.

Tribune: Are you sure it's the legions and not the fruitcake that's revolting? Be honest, have you had a bite of fruitcake this year?

Seaberg: Not yet, but I'm sure I will. I never thought I would be famous for espousing the virtues of fruitcake. I was really kind of hoping for rock stardom.

Tribune: Sorry.

- Peter Korn