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The History of the Fruitcake

fruitcakeThere are foods and drinks that are associated with Christmas. Many look forward to candy canes, Christmas cookies, and egg nog. Very few people will openly share that they like fruitcake. This could be due to the fact that fruitcake is something that people joke about avoiding. Would a fruitcake seem more valuable if people knew the history of it?

A fruitcake can be described as a heavy, dense cake that has a relatively low flour content. It contains lots of mixed dried fruit. Fresh fruit should be avoided as it can cause the fruitcake to go moldy. Fruitcakes can also contain nuts. The BBC notes that fruitcakes should be “matured” for a month and moistened from time to time with sherry or brandy. Once a fruitcake has been properly matured, it can be stored for a year.

How Stuff Works points out that fruitcakes started to become common in Roman times. The Romans mixed pomegranate seeds, pine nuts, and barely mash to make a ring shaped dessert. It was easy for soldiers on the battlefield to carry with them (and had nothing at all to do with Christmas).

During the Middle Ages, people added preserved fruit, spices, and honey to the fruitcake. The recipe changed again in the Sixteenth century when additional ingredients were added. Fruitcakes now contained cupfuls of sugar, nuts, and candied fruit from the Mediterranean. The Victorian era was when the alcohol was added.

In the Eighteenth century, the fruitcake was associated with decadence. It was outlawed in Europe for a while (but the law was later repealed). People in England had started eating fruitcake at tea. Other European countries had their own version of what could be called a fruitcake.

In other words, fruitcake was a popular treat for a very long time. So, how did fruitcake end up with such a bad reputation? In an article for the Smithsonian, writer Jessie Rhodes shares a thought about that. There was a time when mass-produced mail-order fruitcakes were available. Those have been described as “dry” and “garish”.

It appears that the homemade versions of fruitcake, that are “fed” with alcohol and matured for a month (or more) are much tastier than the mass-produced kind. That being said, a company called Claxton has been making fruitcake since 1910. They have been in business for over 100 years, which indicates that there are a lot of people purchasing packaged fruitcake every year!

Love it or hate it, the fruitcake is here to stay as a traditional Christmas treat. Despite the jokes that have been made about it, there seem to be plenty of people who enjoy fruitcake. It would be interesting to discover if those who say they hate fruitcake have every actually tasted one. Bring a fruitcake to your family gathering this Christmas and see what your relatives think about it.

Image by Matthew Bietz on Flickr.

* Christmas Traditions Around the World – Part 2

* Add Some Ethnic Christmas Customs

* Add Some Ethnic Christmas Customs – Part 2

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