Fruitcake for the Holidays

A holiday fruitcake can be the butt of a lot of jokes but this calorie-dense food does have many great attributes. Your ancestors may have been having a fruitcake (either dark or white) for years.

The fruitcake we think of today had its beginnings in that format in the Middle Ages in Europe. Those traveling to the Near and Middle East during the Crusades learned of dried fruits then imported from those fruits to become more common in parts of Europe. People started baking them into their cakes for special occasions. In Germany, they produced stollen, a baked good with fruit and nuts that’s more like bread than the cake.

The English developed by the 1500s they own version of a fruitcake which they named ‘figgy pudding.’ Fruitcake is baked, while the figgy pudding is shaped into a dome and either boiled or steamed. The British figgy pudding underwent a major change following Europe’s colonization of the Americas. Sugar was suddenly plentiful in the so-called “old world,” and candying fruit became a common preservation method.

The food of fruitcake also became popular in other European nations. The name came from a combination of the Latin word ‘fructus’, and the French word ‘frui’ or ‘frug’. In England in the 1800s under Queen Victoria, the idea of figgy pudding and fruitcake was kept for special occasions, especially the Christmas season. Fruitcake became the most popular, especially after the wedding of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, guests were served a fruitcake for dessert.

It was the adding of alcohol (brandy, whiskey or rum) that made the desire for fruitcake even more so. After the fresh cake has a chance to cool, bakers wrapped it in a cloth soaked in liquor and seal it in an airtight container. Alcohol kills bacteria, as well as any yeast or mold that would otherwise grow on a fruitcake and make it inedible. Fruitcake is made with low-moisture ingredients like nuts and dried fruit, giving bacteria less to feed on in the first place. Some people even like the taste of fruitcake if it is aged. Some of our ancestors did just that, make the fruitcake about 2-3 months before the Christmas season, keeping it wrapped in an alcohol cloth.

True, most people today do not make their own fruitcake, especially before the holidays but instead, order a fruitcake from companies that specialize in making holiday fruitcakes.

Check any of your old family recipe books, there just might be a favorite fruitcake recipe.

Photo: A slice of fruitcake.

Related Blogs:

Family Hometown Christmas

Wish List for a Genealogist

Family Desserts

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