If you're a Christmas lover of a certain generation, one name will make your eyes light up, and it ain't "Santa Claus."
It's Jane Parker.
Yes, Jane Parker fruit cake lovers, after short supplies, desperate searches and bankruptcy, your beloved Christmas cake is finally back. Two brothers in New York, Chris and Alex Ronacher, have bought the rights to the cake and the recipe and started making it again.
Fruitcake haters may turn up their noses at this news. But truthfully, the Jane Parker fruit cake is, or was, a classic. Made in light and dark versions, it had a high ratio of nuts and candied fruit (not too much of that nasty citron) set in very good cake.
Starting in the 1930s, A&P's Jane Parker fruit cake was the ultimate, the one thing some people had to have to really feel like it was Christmas. People used to buy them by the dozens to give as gifts. At some point, A&P handed over the line to a bakery in Canada, which kept it alive.
For years, seasonal supplies of the cake turned up all over, often in small food stores and limited supermarket chains, particularly in the South. For food writers, it was an annual call to figure out where the cake was going to be available.
About 15 years ago, I got so curious about the annual stampede that I found a cake so I could write about it. It's still on my list as one of the two best fruitcakes I've ever had. (My favorite is still the N.C.-made Southern Supreme fruitcake, which turns up in some local stores like Reid's at the holidays.)
Still, supplies of the cake dwindled and it got increasingly hard to find. In 2009, it came back briefly for an anniversary, but in 2014, the company went bankrupt.
"A great iconic brand went down with the ship," says Alex Ronacher, 41. With his brother Chris, 45, the Ronachers had an online company selling candy and baked goods. They used to buy Jane Parker fruitcakes in bulk and resell them on their website.
In 2016, they discovered that no one had bought the rights to Jane Parker and decided to do it themselves. Originally, the bakery in Canada agreed to go back to making them. When that didn't work out, the Ronachers found a bakery in the Midwest and finally brought the cake back to the U.S. this year.
They had to make a few changes: The new bakery didn't have the same size pans, so they had to change the sizes. The files for the original artwork were so old, they couldn't open them, so they had a friend who's a graphic artist re-create the logo and labeling.
Other than that, the Ronachers swear, the cake is exactly the same. Maybe a little better, because they're baking more often in smaller batches, so it will be fresher.
"These are the true, 100-percent, original fruitcakes," says Alex Ronacher.
One thing isn't the same: Prices are higher. On the website www.janeparker.com, the only source for the cake, prices range from $24.97 for a 1-pound loaf to $74.97 for a 72-ounce ring cake in a holiday tin.
"Materials have gone up," Chris Ronacher says. "It's a high-quality item." They do throw in the shipping for free, he says: "Fruitcake's not that light."
If you want a cake by Thanksgiving or Christmas, the Ronachers say you should order soon. They weren't sure how much to make, and the old records they inherited were vague on sales figures, so they only made 2,100 for the holidays.
"Order sooner rather than later," Alex Ronacher says. "We've had a tremendous response already."