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Still got fruitcake from 600 BC?

They may be the perennial joke of the holiday, but fruitcakes have staying power, dating back to Roman times. Given fruitcake's reputed longevity, comedians might joke that some of those cakes are still around.

What extends the shelf life of fruitcake? Sugar and spices do, but alcohol doesn't, says James Daniel, associate professor of food chemistry at Purdue University in South Bend, Ind.

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And just how long will a fruitcake last? "I don't know, and I personally wouldn't eat a cake that was more than a few months old. But if the cake has no signs of mold growth, it may be edible for some time," this expert says.

Creative ways to give to grandkids

Still in need of a last-minute gift? Susan Bosak, author of "How to Build the Grandma Con-nection," has some ideas:

* Help your grandchild start a collection (rocks, stamps, etc.) and add to it over time.

* Give a "time coupon" for baking cookies, going shopping, learning how to sew.

* Start a grandparent/grandchild book club and give a new book each month.

* Start a tradition: Give an ornament or view the same holiday movie every year.

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(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society