The Pentagon, which has been accused of cooking up sweet deals for defense contractors, has drafted 18 pages of specifications for the traditional holiday fruitcake.
In place of Grandma's recipe, Military Specification MIL-F-1499F calls for candied orange peel "thoroughly deragged and processed with sugar and corn syrup to not less than 72 percent soluble solids."
The baking tips for companies that produce fruitcakes for far-flung U.S. troops include instructions to soak raisins "as necessary to prevent clumping," to dice candied pineapple in quarter-inch chunks, and to use nuts of "the latest crop" and shortening with the "stability of not less than 100 hours."
Flavoring, according to the Pentagon's taste, "shall be pure or artificial vanilla in such quantities that its presence shall be organoleptically detected." (That means enough to taste or smell.)
Fruitcake batter should "consist of equal parts by weight of cake batter specified in Table I, and fruit and nut blend specified in Table II blended in such a manner as to meet the requirements of specification number 3.5."
For testing, the cooled cake, "bisected" horizontally or vertically with a sharp knife, "shall not crumble nor show any compression streaks, gummy centers, soggy areas, be excessively dry or overprocessed and display an even grain structure throughout."
The product is what Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) calls the "Cost-Is-No-Object Fruitcake." Nunn, a critic of the Pentagon's costly penchant for contracts spelling out every nut and bolt, shared the recipe with his colleagues in a floor speech last week.
"If they go to such lengths for fruitcakes," he said, "you can just imagine what the standards and specifications would be for even the most basic weapons system."
The specifications, written by the Army's Research, Development and Engineering Command, are intended to assure quality production of the holiday treats baked by private companies for U.S. troops stationed abroad, Pentagon officials said. Twelve tons of fruitcake were produced for troops overseas this season under competitive contracts averaging $1.51 per pound.
"Any specification like this is written to the nth degree to try to preclude any contractor from cutting corners," said Harvey Keene, a spokesman for the center in Natick, Mass.
Nunn said that while the fruitcake directive may provide "handy hints" for holiday chefs, it also helps to explain why defense contracts are so costly. "There is no way that you can buy items cheaply when the people who are bidding must go through this kind of maze to determine what it is they are required to do," he said.
The fruitcake specifications, which make a virtue of Julia Child's edict to "get to know your food," prescribe every step short of naming who gets to lick the bowl.
Complete with cross-references to other publications, charts and four pages of amendments, they dictate detailed standards for every ingredient. Candied cherries must be made from pitted cherries, cut to yield quarter-inch to half-inch pieces.
In language more common to the laboratory than the kitchen, instructions call for placing the cakes in cans with liners and discs and tops "clinched on loosely to allow for the escape of moisture and gasses evolved during processing."
The finished product is to "conform to inside contour of the can or can liner," with "no point on the top lid greater than 3/4-inch from the side of the can where the cake did not touch the lid during baking."
The translators are still at work.