Despite decline in numbers, southwest Missouri monks continue selling fruitcakes

Monday, November 26, 2012 | 6:35 p.m. CST

AVA — Trappist monks in southwest Missouri say their holiday fruitcake business will continue to support their monastery despite the dwindling numbers of monks.

The monks at Assumption Abbey produce about 25,000 fruitcakes a year that are sold across the country. The proceeds allow the monks to live out their relatively solitary lives of up-before-dawn work and prayer. The abbey produces 125 cakes a day, five days a week from February through mid-December.

Spokesman Brother Francis Flaherty told The Springfield News-Leader there are now only five Trappist monks who live at the 3,400-acre monastery compound located about 60 miles southeast of Springfield.

Flaherty said the shortage of monks is not unique to Assumption Abbey, and he wonders if computers and television have distracted people from God.

"It's not the world I was born into 72 years ago," he said.

The youngest monk at the abbey is 56. Flaherty is second youngest, and the other three are in their 80s.

He said four Trappist monks will join the abbey from a monastery in Vietnam next year, and the monks also get help with baking the fruitcakes from a small group of Franciscan friars and hermits who live at the monastery.

The monks at the abbey, which was founded in 1950, used to make concrete blocks but turned to fruitcakes in 1987. Brother Joseph Reisch, who is a hermit and baker, said they are "blessed" with a good recipe.

The fruitcakes are made from batter that's loaded with orange peel, raisins, currants, cherries, pineapple and other wine-soaked fruit. After baking, each cake is injected with about an ounce of rum and coated with corn syrup. After about five minutes of prayer, the cakes are wrapped and put in individual shipping boxes. All work is done by hand, with five people in the bakery.

Reisch said the cakes can be eaten immediately, but he recommends allowing them to age to get the best flavor. Each cake, if left sealed, will keep for up to five years.

"After a few months, it takes on a radically different flavor," he said.


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