For families expecting an army of friends and relatives over for Christmas dinner, Sen. Sam Nunn recommends this bit of Pentagon haute cuisine to top off the feast--the fighting man's fruitcake, also known as "Military Specification MIL-F-1499F, amended 1980."
The Georgia Democrat, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, shared the debatably mouth-watering but undoubtedly mind-boggling recipe with colleagues recently as part of his continuing campaign to tweak the Defense Department for needless bureaucracy.
"I would call this a 'Perfect Specification, Cost-Is-No-Object Fruitcake,' " Nunn said on the Senate floor as he read excerpts from an 18-page Pentagon document detailing the proper way for military chefs to prepare the traditional Yuletide treat.
Not only does the military "cookbook" list the ingredients, it also includes six pages of sanitary standards for the kitchen that must be met before baking can begin. Item 220.127.116.11.1 offers this preparation hint: "Blending and Depositing . . . The fruitcake batter shall 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 3.5."
Another tip, contained in section 18.104.22.168.2, instructs preparers to "examine each ingredient organoleptically."
"I assume this means we are to lick the bowl and the beaters," Nunn explained.
An addendum to the original instructions reduces tolerance levels for the size of candied cherries from 12.8 millimeters to 12.7 millimeters, and yet another section, designated 3.5.1, details the proper dimensions for a fruitcake once baked: "The finished product shall conform to the inside contour of the can or can liner. There shall be no point on the top lid greater than 3/4 inch (19 mm.) from the side of the can where the cake did not touch the lid during baking. . . . The processing time shall be adjusted so that the batter portion is heated uniformly throughout to produce a finished product having no raw, stringy or ungelatinized portions. When the cooled product is bisected vertically and horizontally with a sharp knife, it shall not crumble nor show any compression streaks, gummy centers, soggy areas, be excessively dry or over-processed, and shall display an even grain structure throughout."
Nunn wryly promised colleagues that if they wanted to try the military recipe "the Pentagon will furnish 15 full-time inspection specialists, and they will work for one week to determine whether the fruitcake is in compliance."