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Fruitcake Throughout the Years

Fruitcakes became a holiday staple as early as the 1800s; however, modern-day fruitcake doesn’t exactly have the best reputation and is very little like anything you might call “cake.” Made with dried fruits and lots of nuts, fruitcake is typically on the more dry side, with no sweet sugary frosting. Still, it has been around for much longer than you would think. Here’s a look at where fruitcake came from, and what it was like throughout the years.

The Origins of Fruitcake

Fruitcake has been around since ancient Roman times, where it was made of a mix of pine nuts, barley mash, pomegranate seeds, raisins, and honeyed wine. It was shaped into a cake and called “satura.” Because it was easy to carry around and lasted for so long without going bad, Roman soldiers brought it to the battlefields as a snack. Honey, spices, and preserved fruits were added during the Middle Ages and Crusaders and hunters were reported to have carried it to sustain themselves over long periods of time away from home.

It Once Included Meat

During Shakespearean times, it was made up of meat, wine, sherry, fruit juices, sugar, and some preserved fruits. After a while, though, the meat was eliminated, and more fruit was added in its place. It became known as “plum pudding,” and was basically plum cake.

Through the centuries, the ingredients in fruitcake changed with the times. Fruitcake as we know it today, though, can still be traced all the way back to the Middle Ages. During the 16th century, sugar became cheaper, and Europeans realized they could use it to preserve fruits. They began soaking fruits in sugar, essentially drying them, and adding all of that sugar-soaked fruit to cake. Around this time, nuts were also added. All of that sugar ended up making fruitcake a little too good. In the 18th century, fruitcakes (then known as plum cakes) were outlawed throughout continental Europe for being “sinfully rich.” That didn’t last long, though, and eventually fruitcake went back to being super popular.

Fruitcake Comes to America

In the years before the Revolution, British colonists brought fruitcake to America. It became especially popular in places that didn’t have a lot of access to fresh fruit, since fresh fruit wasn’t needed to make it. Two locations became known for making and selling fruitcake: Collin Street Bakery in Corsicana, Texas and Claxton Bakery in Claxton, Georgia. Around 1913, the Collin Street Bakery, which is still one of the leading fruitcake producers, started shipping the cake by mail and now sends it all over the world.

Fruitcake Traditions

Fruitcake has been part of some interesting traditions. In Europe, a ceremonial type of fruit cake was baked at the end of the nut harvest and saved to be eaten at the celebration of the following year’s harvest. It was hoped that the tradition would bring another successful yield.

In Victorian England, when fruitcake was enjoying a huge moment in the spotlight, it became a special occasion cake for British royals. When Queen Victoria married Prince Albert, she supposedly waited a whole year to eat a slice of her fruitcake to show her restraint. When Princess Diana married Prince Charles, they served fruitcake at their wedding. Kate Middleton and Prince William also served fruitcake at their own ceremony. At one time, it was even customary for unmarried wedding guests to put a slice of fruitcake under their pillow at night so they could dream about the person they would eventually marry.

Why is it the Butt of Jokes?

Considering how wildly popular fruitcake was for so long, how did it become the butt of confectionary jokes? Many believe this sort of thinking began with late night talk show host, Johnny Carson. In the 1960s, during an episode of The Tonight Show, he joked, “The worst Christmas gift is fruitcake. There is only one fruitcake in the entire world, and people keep sending it to each other.” It then became tradition for Carson to make fun of the stuff every single year around the holidays.

It was Once Brought to the Moon

In 1969, fruitcake took a ride to the moon. Pineapple fruitcake was brought on the Apollo 11 space mission, but it was never eaten by astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins. You can still get a glimpse at that fruitcake on display at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

Why Do We Eat it During Christmas?

Fruitcake didn’t begin as a holiday dessert, so how did it become synonymous with Christmas? Swiss Colony says that fruitcake is referenced in the Christmas carol “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” as “figgy pudding.” According to them, fruitcake was served to poor English Christmas carolers, which may be a reason it became so popular for the holidays.

What team are you on?

You may or may not have pleasant memories of your grandmother’s fruitcake. However, the fruitcake recipes available today are as varied as different people and their holiday traditions. Don’t like candied green cherries or sugary sweet pineapple? Love nuts? There is a recipe for you. Considering its long-standing tradition as a holiday favorite, fruit cake deserves another chance. This might be the year to start your own holiday tradition with your very own fruitcake recipe. If you don’t have a favorite, here is one to try:

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