I'll Bite

What’s so great about Jane Parker?

The Jane Parker Fruit Cake came in loaves and the iconic rings.
The Jane Parker Fruit Cake came in loaves and the iconic rings. Observer files

This is a reprint of a column that ran Dec. 11, 2002.

Let's cut to the chase:

If you're looking for Jane Parker fruitcake, you may be out of luck. Park N Shop stores on Wilkinson Boulevard and North Tryon Street are sold out. The only local sources we could find last week were Beatty's Fruit Store at N.C. 601 and U.S. 24/27 in Midland, and some Lowe's Food Stores, including in Cornelius.

Now, on to the next question:

What's all this about Jane Parker fruitcake?

The holiday fuss starts earlier every year. But like the first note of Nat King Cole singing about chestnuts, the first call from a reader looking for Jane Parker cake is the sign the holidays really are here.

Helen Moore runs a note every year with cake sources.

This year, a call from Ginny Downs of Pineville, who wanted a closer source than a store in Mooresville, pushed me into the icy streets to try the cake myself.

I was almost too late. At Park N Shop on Wilkinson, usually a Jane Parker mother lode, the display was bare.

The rush started early, said manager Fran Reed. Some regulars come from South Carolina and buy 20 and 30 cakes as gifts. The supply was gone by Thanksgiving.

Well, almost gone. Store co-owner Mildred Turner had tucked away several for herself. It took a little wheedling, but she finally sold me a 4.5-pound cake so I could do my duty by Observer readers.

Jane Parker fans tend to be older, and they tell me they love the familiarity of the cake. Downs, 81, says the cake is like the ones her mother made.

On sight, it is a beauty. It has more “cake” than fruitcakes like Claxton. It’s moister, and the top is glazed with pecans.

At the office, I sliced both the Jane Parker and a Claxton cake. Then I summoned newsroom fruitcake fans.

Everyone who would admit to liking fruitcake agreed the Parker cake was better. Even non-fruitcake people (so to speak) admitted that if all fruitcakes tasted like that, they might convert.

Although the label claims “over 2/3 fruit & nuts,” everyone agreed that part of its appeal is that it has plenty of golden cake to offset all the fruit. The nuts and candied fruit also taste fresher.

One diehard Claxton eater, clerk Mary Napier, was reluctant to even try another. When she did, she admitted defeat.

“Nothing’s sacred anymore,” she finally said. “Claxton lost.”

So the Parker cake is a great cake. But I haven't solved this mystery: Why is it so different from other fruitcakes?

Jane Parker was the bakery line for A&P stores. A&Ps have dwindled, but the company is still around and is based in New Jersey. The last official Jane Parker bakery in Toronto, Canada, closed several years ago. After repeated calls to A&P offices in Patterson and Montvale, all I could determine is that the cake is made in Canada and no mail order is available.

So, for now: If you don't have a cake, you may not find one. Next year, says Park N Shop's Fran Reed, plan early. Some people call ahead and reserve cakes. If you want one, start planning in October.

Long before Nat starts singing about chestnuts.