To be fair, Spam did send a warning: The email about the brand’s new, limited-edition holiday flavor read, “Let’s just say, it’ll have you asking ‘WTF?’”
That is, indeed, what I said when I opened a mailer from the company to find figgy pudding-flavored Spam, bearing the tagline “flavor, spice, and everything nice.” Figgy pudding, of course, is that dessert of holiday carol fame, which is similar in flavor profile to fruitcake but is steamed instead of baked.
Proving that perhaps brands have exhausted all the more accessible Christmas flavors and themes (peppermint candy cane dip, Little Debbie Christmas tree cakes ice cream, Elf on the Shelf “snow creme cereal”), the fruitcake-style dessert has now become this season’s wildcard novelty flavor, but not in actual fruitcake form. In addition to Spam’s new release comes Mountain Dew’s “Fruit Quake” — the fruity, spiced, borderline-cloying flavor of fruitcake reimagined in ways a Victorian royal never could have dreamed. Similarly, the company Bean Box now sells a coffee advent calendar in which one flavor is figgy pudding.
It is fruitcake season, I suppose. I say that hesitantly because despite the dish’s holiday associations, that sort of long-aged, boozy, dry fruit-filled dessert doesn’t currently have much love in the American culinary imagination. A sample headline from Smithsonian: “The Inevitable, Detestable Fruitcake.” Fruitcake’s reputation in the United States is such that in a 2007 NPR piece about figgy pudding — which is more popular in British Christmas tradition — baking expert Dorie Greenspan was afraid to compare the two “because fruitcake has such a bad reputation,” she said. Now, even the gift-basket seller Harry & David, which offers fruitcake, has described the dessert as “more of a punchline than delicacy.” (As my colleague Dayna Evans notes, some fruit cake isn’t nearly as bad as its reputation would suggest and as long as you time it right, it can even be fun to make.)
In any case, these new fruitcake-flavored options won’t do much to dispel our collective misunderstanding of fruitcake and its adjacent desserts, I fear. Admittedly a Spam enthusiast, I popped the can open, excited to cook it. The smell reminded me, optimistically, of a spiced ham, poked with cloves — not my favorite, but okay! The flavor, however, left much to be desired: too perfumey, with a cloying fruit flavor and a bitter aftertaste. Fruit Quake, at the very least, seems a bit better: One reviewer described the drink as “a decent tasting Dew that I wouldn’t throw away when no one is looking.”
We can trust one thing, and that’s if big brands like these are attempting to bring fruitcake back, it’s probably not the last time we’ll see this holiday flavor pop up somewhere unexpected.