Cakes,  Christmas,  Culinary History,  Food History,  History,  Holidays

Fruitcake: A Universal Delight?

Well, it is the day after Christmas here. Also known as Boxing Day in England and Canada. And if you read that title and thought at first, that the best thing to do with fruitcake is to box it up and give it to someone else or bury it in the yard under cover of darkness, then I would like you to try to forget about the modern fruitcakes of today. They are mostly all disgusting (I don’t mind saying that out loud, Internet!). Let me introduce you instead to the true fruitcake which is in actuality not like its nutty, fake rubber fruit cousin. It is quite a hearty and delicious cake once you learn its history!
For after all, how did this poor cake go from being a much anticipated, yearly holiday cake to the brunt of many jokes and a slang word?
The fruitcake has a long history that stretches all the way back to ancient times first being mentioned and enjoyed in ancient Egypt and Rome. It was like an early form of energy bars. The traditional fruitcake as we know it today we find first being made in the medieval ages. Since then, almost every country in the world has come up with their own recipe for fruitcake from Japan to Austria to the Bahamas.

A classic dark, moist fruitcake made with delicious dried fruits, rather than citron and candied peel.
Fruitcake from King Arthur Flour

What all or most of these cakes have in common is the large amount of spices, fruit and nuts used. This lends itself to making fruitcake very rich and dense. Also, fruitcakes are most often prepared weeks, sometimes months, in advance of when they are going to be eating. Unlike a plum pudding though, fruitcakes are baked first and then very often doused, or the ingredients that are used are first doused, with one or several types of alcohol to preserve the cake. Often it was brandy, rum or bourbon if you were from America.
Then these cakes were wrapped up and safely packed away into a dark pantry until time to bring them out for the holidays. Many times though they were pulled out before then and given another soaking of alcohol. Well made fruitcakes are often carefully tended and aged like you would a fine wine or cheese.
Did you know that fruitcake was one of the few foods that actually made it to the moon?! In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Apollo Mission astronauts snacked on their own special fruitcake made for them by the space food test kitchens of NASA. It contained such ingredients as soy flour, pecans and dried cherries. Lunar cake!
Now, I may not have convinced you to try fruitcake, but I would encourage you not to put it away entirely! Try making fruitcake for yourself at home with quality ingredients and see if you don’t love it! There are dozens of good recipes out there and though it may take some time to get a proper fruitcake made, the flavors of homemade fruitcake are not even comparable to store bought! 🙂

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