Families have all kinds of different holiday traditions, but two sisters have one that really does take the cake.
In 1950, Donna and Charlotte each received a fruitcake for Christmas from their grandmother. Little did they know that 68 years later one of those cakes would be the gift that keeps giving.
In this week’s Finding Minnesota, John Lauritsen takes us to Cloquet where the sisters have no problem regifting a Christmas relic.
“We’d start fighting when my mother was in the bathtub so she couldn’t separate us,” said Donna Melin.
Like all siblings, 90-year-old Charlotte and 85-year-old Donna freely admit they fought as kids. One famous battle happened after Donna destroyed her sister’s doll.
“It had teeth and I poked the teeth in,” Donna said.
“Yeah, darn kid,” Charlotte added.
But Christmas 1950 was one to remember – the Korean War had begun, Harry Truman was president and both Donna and Charlotte got fruitcakes for Christmas.
“When I talked to her later on that night, I said you don’t have to worry about eating the fruitcake because it’s really dry,” Donna said.
For reasons known only to her at the time, Charlotte decided to keep her cake. And during Christmas 1951, she wrapped it and gave it to her sister as a special treat. The following year, Donna returned the favor.
“Her husband said give it back to her next year,” Charlotte Anderson said.
Thus began the famous Cloquet Cake War. Sixty-eight years later, no one is ready to call a truce.
Each Christmas, whichever sister has possession of the baked relic thinks of a new and creative way to give it back. One year in the late 70s, a book was used.
Donna: “My husband hollowed out, carefully, each page with a straight edge razor and the cake just fit nice in there.”
Charlotte: “When I opened it and he had cut this hole in here, I was kind of mad.”
Donna: “She was looking forward to reading the book.”
Then there was the bird feeder incident in the early 80s. Donna put the cake inside and it was put on a tree in Charlotte’s front lawn. The birds wouldn’t touch it.
“I thought, ‘We didn’t put it out there, where did we get that bird feeder?'” Charlotte said.
In addition to books and bird feeders, the fruitcake has also found itself in wine bottles, plants and even a chocolate layer cake. It’s been re-routed through other states, and once, one of the fruitcake ladies sent it to the other by way of Canada.
The sisters are serious about fruitcake, and they’re serious about keeping this tradition going.
And what happens to a fruitcake after nearly 70 years?
“Well, it’s as hard as a rock,” Donna said.
“Yeah, it’s a hockey puck,” said Charlotte.
During the offseason, each sister stores it in a special place. For Charlotte, it’s a linen closet. For Donna, it’s on top of a file cabinet.
Part of the fun has been getting their families involved over the years. They’re both widows now, but their beloved husbands played a major role in this fruity bit of family history—that’s why losing the fruitcake isn’t an option.
“Oh yeah, it would be terrible. I think I’d cry,” Donna said.
“Even if we insured it, I wouldn’t even know what to insure it for,” Charlotte added.
If this ancient baked good could talk, the stories it would tell. It cost 19 cents in 1950, but today it’s priceless. After all, sisters are kind of like fruitcake – they can be a little nutty, but you love them just the same.
“Our grandma would be happy we are having fun with her gift,” Charlotte said.
“It’ll go for many years yet,” said Donna.
The fruitcake joke has gone on for so long that Donna and Charlotte say people around town will often ask them about it.
The sisters say after they die, they are hoping their kids or grandkids take over the family tradition and keep mailing the fruitcake back and forth.