From the familiar to the fantastic, fruit has played an interesting role in history — and does so even today
Fruitcake Prison Break
Eamon de Valera was an Irish revolutionary. He led a revolt against the British in 1916 and then stirred things up politically. He published a manifesto, which is a document listing his political goals, and he did all sorts of other rebellious stuff that landed him in prison — England’s infamous Lincoln Prison, from which no one had ever escaped.
Ever the quick thinker, he got hold of the prison chaplain’s key, and asked a very artistic fellow inmate to draw it. (De Valera then snuck the key back to its owner so no one would change the locks.) De Valera’s friend depicted a rather comical scene around the key drawing so no one would notice how suspicious the picture really was. De Valera then sent this “card” off to a friend, scrawling a friendly greeting on the back.
The recipient got the hint. A couple of weeks later, a visitor arrived at the prison, delivering a fruitcake for de Valera. Baked into it was a replica of the key from the drawing.
The chief warden wasn’t about to let a cake in without inspecting it. Although he repeatedly poked it with a knife, he never found the key… and the cake got in. Unfortunately for de Valera, the key was too small. Another attempt — also smuggled in a fruitcake — similarly failed. Finally, de Valera’s friends sent him a blank key and a set of files to shape it, also concealed in a fruitcake. (I guess fruitcakes were more popular back then?!)
One of de Valera’s fellow inmates was able to recreate the prison key. And on February 3, 1919, de Valera and two friends escaped. He went on to become the Irish prime minister — and was the longest-serving prime minister in Irish history. Was it a piece of cake? We’ll never know… but it sure makes an interesting (and true) story!
Olive Oil Uprising
During World War II, and even before America got officially involved, the US government rounded up and detained numerous foreigners in prison camps. They were seen as a threat to national security. While many people have heard about Japanese prisoners, the history of 1,200 Italian detainees is less familiar.
At a large internment camp in Missoula, Montana, in 1941, things got really intense when a group of Italian prisoners stampeded into the kitchen, complaining angrily that they were stuck cooking with suet (beef fat) when they needed olive oil. The attack got pretty slippery, with the Italians even hurling suet at the camp cooks. Guards were called in. Tear gas was sprayed. The brawlers were dispersed. A watchtower guard, caught up in the pandemonium, even ended up shooting himself in his own foot (by accident).
Many historians believe the riot was actually about something much more serious than cooking oil. Regardless, the story stuck, becoming part of Missoula legend. What certainly was true, however, was that the Italians were complaining they were becoming ill from the canned food and other provisions at the camp.
A local newspaper at the time reported that Fort Missoula tried to provide the different groups of prisoners with food according to their ethnicity: “Spaghetti, olive oil, and garlic for the Italians, and rice, soybeans, and fish for the Japanese.” The Italians at Missoula were released in 1944, but their love for olive oil remains legendary — in Missoula, at least.
(Excerpted from Mishpacha Jr., Issue 797)
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