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134-year-old fruitcake survives another Christmas

11:29 AM, Dec 28, 2012   |    comments
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TECUMSEH, Mich. -- Back in 1878, Fidelia Ford did something at her family's farmhouse in Berkey, Ohio, that drew the news media again and again.

She baked a cake.

That's right. A fruitcake.

In 1928, the Toledo Blade broke a story: There was a 50-year-old cake, passed down through the years, never eaten because its creator died not long after baking it.

Today, Fidelia Ford's great-grandson lives in Tecumseh. Morgan Ford, a retired master mechanic, is 92 years old.

Every year or so, his phone rings, and then he adds to his two albums filled with clippings from publications such as the Wall Street Journal and People magazine. The late homespun humor columnist Erma Bombeck used to check in on him. Jay Leno had Ford on as a guest in 2003

That's because Ford still has his great-grandmother's cake.

In fact, it's sitting right here in front of us at your house in Tecumseh -- beautiful house, by the way -- how old is this fruitcake?

ANSWER: This fruitcake is 134 years old.

Did they forget about it?

No, due to her passing, they never cut her cake. And it was my grampa, lived in the same house. And my dad and mother, lived in the same house. I was born in the same house this cake was baked in. It stayed in that same farmhouse from 1878 till 1952, and that's when my dad passed away. In '52, he had a stroke and I was down to see him. When I left to go home, he said, 'Get up in that cupboard, and take that old fruitcake home with you.' As kids we were told never to go near that fruitcake.


Because when I was 7, the cake was 50. And they didn't want any kids fooling around with it. I still won't let anybody touch it. ... Ever. One fella on the telephone, he told me to get a spoon and tap it, so he could hear it. And I did. And that was crazy.

He should have come and done an in-person interview like we are.


So at some point the cake became very important?

Yes, it was an heirloom ... and it made people laugh. ... A fellow called me up from Pennsylvania, and he laughed longer than he asked me questions.

Sort of like me, right now.

He just couldn't quit laughing.

So you've gotten a lot of value out of this thing.

Yes, I have. ... This cake needs to be seen and talked about.

You've lived with the cake for 92 years, pretty much?

Yes. Well, when I was growing up, we didn't want much to do with a stinkin' cake.

Kids don't appreciate it?

My grandkids, they all want to smell it. When I took it to school, I think I took it for all my grandkids when they were in second, third or fourth grade. And I tell them not to touch it, but you can smell it. And a couple of those boys made believe they got a real smell and they fell backwards on the floor. That's funny.

How much would you sell it for?

It isn't worth a penny to somebody else. They would buy it for the dish and the cover, because that's probably more valuable than the cake. But the cake is an heirloom. And we'll keep it.

It looks like it's in pretty good shape. It's still brown. It still has a little bit of what looks like sugar on the top or some sort of crystalline substance. It might even be a little bit spongy.

No. It's not.

Do you have to do anything special to preserve it?

No, we just keep the cover on. And you'll notice, the cover fits nice and tight. So it doesn't get much air. I've taken it to reunions. I've taken it back to church, where my mother went to church. ... When my uncle died, my wife's uncle, his wife said, 'Can you bring that cake tomorrow to the funeral?' She said, 'I got a lot of friends that want to see that cake.' So I've even taken it to a funeral.

What does this cake mean to your family?

The cake means a connection with my family to their great-grandmother, who was born on the Fourth of July 1813, and she died at 66 years old. They never would have looked up the great-grandparents if this hadn't happened. ... This has come down through three or four generations, and we know its connection to the past.

That's great. It's a touchstone for your family. You ever taste the dang thing?

Yes, I have.

What did it taste like?

In the summertime, when they thrash wheat, and you put a couple of the kernels in your mouth and chew 'em. ... It tastes like raw wheat ... not much of a taste, no, and not good.

Is this cake in your will?

No, but the family knows. ... I have one boy, Jim, and he's gonna get the cake. I wanna keep it in the Ford name.

How do you know he'll treat it with such loving care?

I don't know about that, but I raised him as a pretty good boy.

Last thing ... why don't you and I just eat that sucker right now?

Get the butcher knife.

I'm kidding!

I know. I probably will never take another taste.

Jim Schaefer, Detroit Free Press

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