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The Infamous Fruitcake Joke

Johnny Carson TV Host Profile Image
October 4, 2021

The Infamous Fruitcake Joke

Johnny Carson: Fruitcake Friend or Foe?

On May 21st, 1992, Johnny Carson ended his thirty-year stint as the host of The Tonight Show. This was a significant moment in television history, as it was arguably Carson who made late-night television a household, entertainment staple.

For nearly three decades, Carson had woven himself into the nightly routine of millions of viewers. Featuring the most popular figures of the day, Caron’s list of guest celebrities, politicians, musicians, actors, and actresses stretches the length of the Hoover Dam. A born comic, Carson was astoundingly quick and shockingly witty. His on-set interviews only rival in humor his well-scripted stand-up routines.

Astute, mentally nimble, and concise, Carson was able to cut to the comedic heart of any scenario. For many Americans, he was their metaphorical mouthpiece, vocalizing the collective thoughts of the common man. He was one of them, and yet not. For others, he was more akin to a guidepost or beacon, providing a perspective, logical reason, and direction. Many people made decisions based solely on the words of one, Mr. Johnny Carson. Sometimes, to disastrous effects.

Johnny Carson Sits at His Desk Interviewing A Guest

The Power of Suggestion

In December 1973, Carson cracked a joke about a made-up, country-wide, toilet paper shortage. The joke, intended to tickle and amuse, led to a 20-million American stampede on retail stores. People rushed to hoard bathroom tissue in a manic frenzy. The incident was so significant, it became a topic of national news. CBS’ own Walter Cronkite reported on the story saying, “The Scott Paper Company, citing panic buying on the retail level, said today it is implementing an allocation system for the national distribution of toilet tissue. A Scott spokesman said unfounded rumors of a shortage has caused excessive demand at retail outlets.”

Carson later issued a clarification of his original joke stating, “For all my life in entertainment, I don't want to be remembered as the man who created a false toilet paper scare. Apparently, there is no shortage!" Despite his apology, the damage had been done. It took grocery stores and other businesses weeks to replenish their wiped-out inventory. The incident came to be known as, “The Great Toilet Paper Scare.” If there was ever any evidence of the power of suggestion was real, this was it. But then again, maybe it wasn’t just about the power of suggestion. Maybe, it was the power of Carson’s suggestions.

Carson had the ear of the American people. His jokes were iconic. His perspective was unequaled. His word was gospel. If the funniest man in America said something, it had to be true, right?

Johnny Carson Posing with a Fan

Coincidence? - We think not.

Upon reflection, it's hard to tell if Carson himself understood the power of his own presence. One wonders if he had, would he still have made the comments he did? If he could have predicted the lasting impact of his words, would he still have said them? Unfortunately, in 2005, at the ripe age of seventy-nine, Carson passed away, leaving no way to ask. The best we can do is look at the reverberating effect of Carsons’ words in our lives today.

This reflection calls to mind Carson’s infamously ionic fruitcake joke, The worst gift is a fruitcake. There is only one fruitcake in the entire world, and people keep sending it to each other.” For many, that wisecrack sliced like a hot knife through soft butter. Almost immediately after the jokes airing, fruitcake sales drastically declined. Coincidence? We think not.

Prior to Carson’s comment, fruitcake had always been a holiday dessert staple. Loved by many, fruitcake was considered a family tradition and a Christmas icon. Its popularity was global, viewed as a delicious, confectionary delicacy. Countless countries including Australia, Bulgaria, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, India, Mexico, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom each lay claim to their own unique and regionally-specific fruitcake recipes.

Image Source Netflix®

In fact, fruitcake’s worldwide fashionableness stems from deeply embedded historical roots. Prior to the advent of modern methods of preservation, our ancestors found creative and ingenious ways of preserving the precious fruits and nuts gathered during the fall harvest. One of those methods included baking a cake of high-quality flour, sugar, and butter, and incorporating into the batter candied fruits and nuts. The notion being left alone, the shelf life of these precious ingredients would be detrimentally short. However, when combined, their preservational capacity dramatically increased, enabling the baker to enjoy the bounty of the harvest even in the barren months of winter. Often reserved as a special treat for significant occasions, fruitcake was often the dessert of choice for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Thus explaining the tightly knitted correlation between the cake and the holidays.

Even after the creation of preservatives and refrigeration, the custom of making fruitcake continued. Like many traditions, the practicality of the practice became irrelevant. But its symbolic association to joy, family, togetherness, and thankfulness remained. That is, until 1978...

Johnny Carson Star

The Decline of the Fruitcake Empire

On November 22, 1978, with the American population poised and watching, Carson cracked his fruitcake joke. Waves of laughter rippled through the on-set audience, and presumably, across the country. And, snap! Just like that, fruitcake was out of fashion. No longer was it a symbol of hard work, family, and love. In an instant, it was relabeled as a curiously heavy cake, made with unknown ingredients, associated with aging family relatives. Too dense to eat, fruitcake’s use was relegated to use as a boat anchor, a doorstop, or a brick.

How is it possible, a beloved tradition with historically documented roots dating back to the days of the ancient Egyptians could fall out of style overnight? - Had the whole world been faking the fruitcake love for centuries till Carson finally broke the pretense? Or was Caron’s opinion so influential, so heavily weighted, the general population was concerned that to contradict him was to cast themselves as a social pariah?

The evidence to the latter is significant. For one thing, while fruitcake sales in the United States drastically declined, worldwide affection for the confectionery treat remained steady. That’s unsurprising when you think the majority of Carson’s audience were located in the U.S.. So, was this another case of Carson's power of suggestion? I mean, it wouldn’t be the first time Carson accidentally influenced the opinions and buying habits of an entire country - remember “The Great Toilet Paper Scare?”

Makes you wonder, just how everybody was afraid they’d be unable to spare a square, is it possible people were afraid to admit that they themselves did like fruitcake?

Nobody Puts Fruitcake In A Corner

What’s more to think about, over the past ten years, fruitcakes sales have started to recover. Despite having been considered a confectionary castaway, fruitcake has been slowly making a kind of cultural comeback. Why is this? - Maybe it’s because ‘You can’t keep a good fruitcake down,’ or ‘Nobody puts fruitcake in a corner.’ Or perhaps it’s because, since Carson’s retirement in 1992, fewer people remember his iconic fruitcake joke, therefore fewer people are influenced by it.

It’s also very possible fruitcake’s mounting popularity has something to do with its recent liberation as a ‘holiday only indulgence. No longer resigned to being just a seasonal treat, fruitcake has been discovered to be a calorically dense nutrition source for endurance athletes. With a taste and texture comparable to granola or energy bars, fruitcake has become a substitute for long-haul bikers, hikers, and skiers.

Think we’re kidding? Nope - We don’t have Carson’s gift for wit. Just read these reviews left by people who swear by fruitcake as a source of fuel…

Sliced Regular DeLuxe® Fruitcake

“As I read through the ingredients of a Collin Street DeLuxe® Fruitcake™, I noted the high level of carbs and protein... All bound in one great-tasting product. I found [it] provided at least 45 minutes of energy before I needed to stop and eat again. I loved having the fruitcake on hand!”

- Tim Hoime, Avid Hiker

READ ARTICLE

“Fruitcake tastes great! One thing I've found trying different kinds of [energy] bars during [bike] races is that some of them are so dry you almost have to spit them out – you can't get them down. Fruitcake [isn’t] like that because they're so moist.”

- Bob Kingman, Cycling Enthusiast

READ ARTICLE

“[Thea] had introduced me to the idea [of fruitcake] on one of our previous hikes... Her father had read an article about using fruitcake as an outdoor snack substitute for granola bars and energy gels... It was such a hit in [their] family, I thought I’d give it a whirl. We hike the whole way feeling fueled by our fruitcake.”

- Mary-Preston Austin, Professional Amateur Hillwalkers

READ ARTICLE

SEE?! The Testimonies Speak For Themselves!

#FruitcakeAsFuel

And There Goes Johnny

To settle any confusion, we don’t dislike Carson. He was a comedy giant who cracked a couple of jokes at fruitcake's expense. Comics make jokes; it’s what they do. For them, no topic is off-limits - all subject matter is fair game. So, we don’t take his comments personally. But we do wonder, what if pound cake had been his punchline instead…

Regular DeLuxe® Fruitcake

Help Us Prove Fruitcake Hate is Fake

We’re on a mission!! We want to prove that #FruitcakeHateIsFake. Help us make our case by trying a slice for yourself and leaving us a review. Order one of our world-famous DeLuxe® Fruitcakes right now and tell us what you think!

Comments
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Marc
August 17, 2022
I think you've got the story only partly right. Johnny Carson told that initial joke ("There is only one fruitcake in the entire world, and people keep sending it to each other") in the 1960s and kept making similar comments year after year during the holiday season. So it wasn't just a one-time joke that had sudden and drastic effects on the fruitcake market. It probably built up over at least 20 years.
Mr JOHN PALERMO
September 23, 2022
Thank you for sharing this article ion Johnny Carson. With everyone being so health conscious about reducing sugar in our diets can you make a keto fruitcake. Keep the natural sugars from the fruit but reduce the sugar content from the batter. Just idea. Love your fruitcake.
Collin street Bakery
October 6, 2022
At this time we do not offer a sugar free or low sugar in our cake but we do recommend to enjoy in moderation.
Marjorie
September 23, 2022
For the unfortunate folks who have never been blessed with Collins Street Fruitcake, hating fruitcake is understandable! The others give the “Holiday” staple a bad name. Note: the quotations for “Holiday” because as far as I’m concerned, The Collins Street Bakery is the only one worthy of the name fruitcake! Furthermore, everyday is a holiday when Collins Street is served!
Collin Street Bakery
October 7, 2022
We agree! Our fruitcakes are outstanding!
Charles Lindsey
September 23, 2022
The "Corsicana Fruitcake," as my family called it, always appeared at Christmas time as a gift of my grandparents, Texas natives both. Even when they moved to California, they never lost their Texas twang or their love for fruitcake. I got into the habit of sending my Texas-born mom a fruitcake even after her parents passed away. Today I buy it for myself--and for my kids. But you know, even with all the deep family memories attached to it, I wouldn't keep eating it if it weren't DELICIOUS.
Collin Street Bakery
October 7, 2022
What a lovely memory! We are so glad to be a part of what makes you smile!
Mrs Lino Gamez
September 23, 2022
I never cared for fruitcake because it was so dry and left a nasty aftertaste. Besides , they just weren’t good. Then I bought Collin Street Bakery’s traditional fruitcake. I’m so impressed with this moist delicious cake. It goes great with my morning coffee. I will only buy Collin Street Bakery fruitcake in the future.
Collin Street Bakery
October 7, 2022
Once you try a Collin Street Bakery Fruitcake, you won't go back!!
Marilyn Schrader
September 23, 2022
I’ve eaten fruitcake all my life. When we ran a business we gave out several to clients. I bought several for siblings and parents for a number of years. My mouth is watering now.
Collin Street Bakery
October 7, 2022
Go ahead and place ya an order for one NOW!!!
Anne Marshall
September 23, 2022
I love your fruitcake! Why not package some like granola bars? Very handy to put in a purse or pocket. Bet you’d sell a ton.
Collin Street Bakery
October 7, 2022
We sell sliced fruitcakes! They're perfect size for taking on the go in some foil or a small bag!
William Paz
September 23, 2022
I have always enjoyed - LOVED - Fruit Cake. I just do. The first time I ever had Collin Street Bakery Fruit Cake I quit eating all the others. That was back in the mid 70’s. I STILL order a Fruit Cake every Christmas Season and share it with my Bible Study Class.
Collin Street Bakery
October 7, 2022
Our fruitcakes are the best!
Michael Kenny
September 23, 2022
I love this story, I am an Old Fart so I remember watching Carson and remember some of the things he would say for a joke and how they had consequences that obviously did not consider, like the toilet paper scare. Young people today can see that the same thing happened with Covid, suddenly people started hording TP for no rational reason. I took his attack on fruitcake personally, and it WAS an attack as he repeated it over the years, especially during the holidays, because my mother would bake fruitcake every Christmas. She and my Father were from Ireland. Today we can order great fruitcakes from Collin Street Bakery ANY time of the year and I always have one at hand. I enjoy a slice with a cup of tea. There is one sitting in my fridge right now (along with one of your pecan cakes). Carson also made other unsubstantiated remarks on his show that I remember but will not belabor here. This is about fruitcake and anyone that actually tries one will dismiss his comments outright. Long live the fruitcake!
Collin Street Bakery
October 7, 2022
Thank you for your kind word! I'm so glad you love the fruitcake!!
Silvio J. Romero
September 23, 2022
In 1975, overseas with my family for the first time, I sent Collin Street Bakery as Christmas presents to my family and friends in the US. I had eaten the fruitcake for the first time in 1973 at a friend's house in Lincoln, Nebraska and bought one for us in 1974. I have been sending them ever since. I stopped buying them for ourselves when my wife became wheat intolerant, but I think I get one this year. She'll understand.
Collin Street Bakery
October 7, 2022
Thank you for spreading the love with fruitcakes! We do offer a gluten free fruitcake option if that help you out with your wife! we will be waiting for your orders!!
Jan Barron
September 23, 2022
I love fruitcake, and always from Collin Street. I order the petites every year for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Only one a day since my doctor has me on a diet, but it's such a great treat. Just waiting for the weather to cool down to order.
Collin Street Bakery
October 7, 2022
Thank you. We will be here to help you with your order whenever you are ready!
James Blunt
September 23, 2022
I never liked fruit cake until I tasted Collin Street Bakery's. Since the day I took my first bite I have been hooked and purchase them every year!
Neil Stewart
September 23, 2022
I heard Johnny Carson say it…others referred to Fruitcake as a good doorstop. It never stopped me from eating it. Yours is quite good.
Collin Street Bakery
October 7, 2022
I'm glad you enjoy it!
KAT RAMPINO
September 23, 2022
Fruitcake is enjoyed year round as a staple and a treat.
Collin Street Bakery
October 7, 2022
I love too hear that!! Thank You
Nell Lanier
September 23, 2022
I love your fruitcakes! Many in my family aren’t fond of fruitcake in general but that doesn’t stop me from serving it. I never understood why there were so many bad jokes about fruitcake. For me it just seems to be a part of Christmas.
Collin Street Bakery
October 7, 2022
I'm glad we can be part of your Christmas traditions!
MRS TONI KARLIN
September 23, 2022
As I grew older the fruitcake from Collin Bakery is the best I have ever eaten. Their ratio of pecans to fruit are the best. Keep up the good work.
Collin Street Bakery
October 7, 2022
Thank you fir the kind words. I'm glad you love it!!
Claude Fenworthy
September 23, 2022
When my daughter was pregnant with her only son, she discovered that her situation was dire. She could not keep hardly a thing down. We sent her a Colin Street Apricot Pecan Cake and a box of designer Pears from a famous distributor. She was able to keep both of those things down! She survived her agonizing pregnancy on fruitcake and pears.
Collin Street Bakery
October 7, 2022
I'm glad our fruitcakes could help her with her pregnancy. Thank you for sharing.
Jeannine Lupton
September 23, 2022
Love Collin Street fruitcake. I was introduced to it by a friend & then shared with others. I always loved fruitcake. Had it for my 16th December birthday. Found out my Aunt brought my Mom a fruitcake after she gave birth to me in hospital. My Mom loved the Collin Street fruitcake so much. One sister & brother made fun of it until they tasted it. I had to buy Mom a bigger fruitcake the following year. Keep up the good work.
Collin Street Bakery
October 7, 2022
I am so glad you love them. Thank you for passing it on to others as well!
Mary Kraft
September 23, 2022
So smart of you to include complimentary comments about Johnny Carson in addition to the presumably offending joke! Thank you for a friendly and inclusive treatise and reminding us of one of the funniest and innovative and most personable comedians ever! We love fruitcake more than ever!!!
SusanGarruson
September 24, 2022
No one person’s joke would ever sway my opinion that fruitcake is one of the best gifts of baking ever!
Collin Street Bakery
October 6, 2022
We agree. Fruitcake has a bad stereotype but however we are changing that one slice at a time!!
Mrs Lois Krushinsky
September 24, 2022
I am the only one in my family who likes fruit cake, but there is more for me! My cousin, who lives in Texas, started sending them at Christmas time and i have been getting one for myself whenever I crave them. I take the minis with me when I'm at family celebrations and then I take them home. i'm glad that they don't like fruit cake because it's MORE FOR ME! Lois Krushinsky
Collin Street Bakery
October 6, 2022
More for you! How lucky can one get?
Kent Thibodeaux
September 25, 2022
I have been eating Collin Street fruitcakes for 40 plus years and always look forward to the next one. They are very flavorful and packed with all the things you want in a good tasting cake. I love there fresh fruits and nuts and always recommend them to friends.
Collin Street Bakery
September 29, 2022
Thanks for sharing your story! Glad to have you as a long time customer! Look forward to your next order!
Lynne Marie Sparks
September 27, 2022
My mother in lawin the Netherlands likes nothing that I give her every Christmas! Last year during covid she was forced to open my Christmas gift and to her delight fell in love with Collins street fruitcake! She is turning 90 years old this year and requested that I ordered her a large fruit cake to celebrate her birthday on December 29th. Thank you Collin street bakery!
Collin Street bakery
September 28, 2022
Thank you so much for sharing your story! Hope your Mother in law enjoys her birthday with our Special treat!
Collin Street Bakery
October 7, 2022
well I'm glad she loved it!!! Happy early birthday to her from Collin Street Bakery!!!
Mr MR RONALD KLINGER
September 30, 2022
I really like your fruitcake. Always good and consistent. I also like your articles such as Carson and the fraud.
Collin Street Bakery
October 6, 2022
So happy you enjoy!
Collin Street Bakery
October 7, 2022
Thank you for the kind words! We hope you enjoy our fruitcake for many years to come!
Collin Street Bakery
October 7, 2022
We are so happy that you have enjoyed our delicious fruitcakes for so long!
MR. MEIR CHAIMS
October 3, 2022
I'll be clear and simple about this. The Classic Fruit cake can never be 'demeaned'. Not by Johnny Carson (R.I.P) or by any other celerity. The recipe of the Fruitcake can never (almost) be wrong, but only depends on the high quality and standard the Baker takes it to. As a past customer of Collin Street Bakery, I can say it is one of top commercially produced Fruit Cake, that I'm aware of. I regret that not living in the Continental USA, makes this terrific cake unjustifiable to order due to the exorbitant shipping cost. No fault of the cake. These cakes are produced by a dedicated team of talented people, and here all respect is due. Collin Street Bakery, You keep on baking for many many more years to come
Collin Street Bakery
October 6, 2022
Thank you for your kind words. We really appreciate the support and hope you enjoy our Fruitcake for a long time!
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