Slice Up the Fruitcake

This week, we’re looking at something I don’t like very much – fruitcake. This seasonal sweet treat has never appealed to me. But while preparing for a recent Flickr album featuring images of butter and baking, I stumbled upon three fruitcake photos that caught my eye and deserved detailed views.

First up, a Russell Lee photograph taken in San Angelo, Texas for the Farm Security Administration.

Removing fruit cakes from tin in which they were baked at bakery in San Angelo, Texas. Photo by Russell Lee, 1939. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8b23652

In the photo, fruitcakes are removed from their baking tins. My eye was led to a detail in the upper left corner of the image. An object hangs on the wall and on it you can clearly read “K C Baking Powder.”

Detail of Removing fruit cakes from tin in which they were baked at bakery in San Angelo, Texas. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8b23652

Compare that detail to this trademark registration from 1891:

Shows red label with lettering.

Trademark registration by F. F. Jaques for K. C. Baking Powder brand Baking Powder. Print, 1891. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/trmk.1t18978

Not much seems to have changed on the baking powder’s packaging in the nearly 50 years that passed since the trademark was registered. The hanging object is likely a notebook that was made for promotional purposes.

Around the same time that Lee took that photo, a baker in Ojai, California sent a fruitcake to the White House. William Cook Baker was quite famous for his elaborate confections, this photo shows the 1936 cake that was given to Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Photo shows woman with fruitcake.

Fruit cake for president. Mrs. Ellen Anderson Sec. to Cong. Stubbs of Cal. Photo by Harris & Ewing, 1936. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hec.21865

It is in the details that these cakes shine! The 1936 cake is adorned with the White House, though a closer inspection adds more flavor. The detail shows the south front of the White House as the focal point. If you think this view is different today, you are correct! In 1948, the Truman balcony was added.

Photo shows White House decoration on fruitcake.

Detail of Fruit cake for president. Mrs. Ellen Anderson Sec. to Cong. Stubbs of Cal. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hec.21865

From the December 13, 1936 issue of the Los Angeles Times, “Weighing approximately 100 pounds, the President’s cake this year is more ornate than ever. It is seventy-two inches in circumference…As in the past, the top center is featured by a replica of the White House, executed in sugar by the deft fingers of Baker… On the front lawn of the White house cake design, Baker has a scroll in red and gold lettering which reads, “Merry Christmas to President and Mrs. Roosevelt.”

Baker’s 1939 cake for the President featured a famous California landmark:

Photo shows woman and man holding large fruitcake.

President gets Xmas fruit cake. Washington, D.C., Dec. 19. Photo by Harris & Ewing, 1939. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hec.27837

The center decoration on the 1939 cake is the Santa Barbara Mission (with a little artistic license).

Detail of fruitcake with building on top.

Detail of President gets Xmas fruit cake. Washington, D.C., Dec. 19. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hec.27837

While the 1936 cake was festooned with poinsettias, the 1939 cake featured roses.

Though I still don’t like the taste of fruitcake, I’ve come to appreciate it. As is the case with any good baked treat, there can be joy in the details

Learn More:

 

Revisiting Rights-Free: Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Color Photographs

The Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information (FSA/OWI) color photographs provide a vivid glimpse into life in the United States from 1939 to 1945 — a period more often viewed through a monochromatic lens. If you are familiar with the FSA/OWI photographs at the Library of Congress, chances are that the first images that come […]

A Small Texas Town on a March Afternoon in 1940

The following is a guest post by Mary Jane Appel, photo historian and author of the recently published Russell Lee: A Photographer’s Life and Legacy (Liveright, in association with the Library of Congress, 2021). When Farm Security Administration (FSA) photographer Russell Lee drove through the small town of San Marcos, Texas on a sunny afternoon […]

Double Take: FSA Photographer at Work, Cameras in Hand

The following is a guest post by Jan Grenci, Reference Specialist for Posters, Prints and Photographs Division. This post is the latest entry in the occasional Double Take series, where we take a closer look at images. As a reference specialist, it should come as no surprise that I enjoy doing research. What may surprise […]

Sampling Slices of the FSA/OWI Collection

Anyone who has ever dipped into the amazing Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information photograph collection has probably experienced the same sensations that a pie eating contestant must face: mouth-watering temptation combined with a sinking sense that one will soon be overwhelmed. There are many ways to explore the 175,000 black-and-white photographs in the collection. […]

The FSA/OWI Collection: New Videos Provide a Visual Introduction

How can one ever come to understand a collection of 170,000 pictures? If you read my post a few weeks ago about finding unprinted Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information (FSA/OWI) photographs, you probably quickly realized that the collection is complex, consisting of many interrelated parts. I hope you also got a sense of the […]

Finding Unprinted FSA/OWI Photographs–It’s Easier Now!

I started out this week to reflect on the joys of summer with one of our “Caught Our Eyes” posts.  It also turned out to be a fine opportunity to celebrate the results of a recent project to improve access to the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information (FSA/OWI) Collection of photographs from the Depression […]