Fruitcake: The Holiday Dessert Making a Serious Comeback
Ah, fruitcake. Perhaps one of the most polarizing holiday desserts, you either love it or loathe it. Somehow throughout the fruitcake’s long history, it became the running joke of the holiday season. But it remains one of the most traditional holiday desserts to this day.
Fruitcake is a cake made with chopped candied fruit and/or dried fruit, nuts, and spices. It’s often known for its density, rich flavors and its ability to keep fresh for a long time. While most American mass-produced fruit cakes are alcohol-free, traditional recipes are saturated with liqueurs or brandy.
The oldest reference to fruitcake dates back to Roman times. The recipe included pomegranate seeds, pine nuts, and raisins that were mixed into a barley mash. Honey, spices, and preserved fruits were added during the Middle Ages. During the 15th century, the British began their love affair with fruitcake when dried fruits from the Mediterranean first arrived. In 17th century Europe, a ceremonial type of fruitcake was baked at the end of the nut harvest, saved and eaten the next year to celebrate the beginning of the next harvest. Just a century later, fruitcake was outlawed entirely throughout Continental Europe as they were considered to be “sinfully rich.” Once fruitcake was reinstated, it became extremely popular. A Victorian teatime would not have been complete without the addition of the fruitcake. During this time, it was also the custom in England for unmarried wedding guests to put a slice of fruitcake under their pillow at night so they would dream of the person they’d someday marry.
Starting in the 16th century, sugar from the American Colonies (and the discovery that high concentrations of sugar could preserve fruits) created an excess of candied fruit, thus making fruit cakes more affordable and popular. Nuts were introduced into the formula, probably because America’s foremost fruitcake makers—Collin Street Bakery in Corsicana, Texas, and Claxton Bakery of Claxton, Georgia—were located in rural Southern communities with a surplus of cheap nuts.
So, how did such a popular dessert suddenly fall out of favor? Maybe the introduction of mass produced, mail-order fruitcakes in 1913 brought this dessert to its demise. Others point to The Tonight Show host Johnny Carson, who would joke, “there really is only one fruitcake in the world, passed from family to family.” Whatever the reason, fruitcake became the butt of many holiday jokes. It became so bad that the Colorado town of Manitou Springs hosted the Great Fruitcake Toss where people take their recycled fruitcakes and compete to see how far they can be launched. This tradition started in 1995 and continues to this day.
Today, the fruitcake is making a comeback with bakeries experimenting with traditional recipes to appeal to the younger generations. It just goes to show, you can’t keep the fruitcake down. This Christmas season, give the fruitcake a chance to become your favorite holiday dessert!
Fun fruitcake facts:
- December 27th is National Fruitcake Day.
- A pineapple fruitcake was brought along on the Apollo 11 space mission in 1969. Unfortunately, it was not consumed by the astronauts onboard and is currently on display at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
To make your own Fruitcake, check out this recipe!
Find a Fruitcake at one of these WBA member bakeries:
Fosdal’s Home Bakery
243 E Main St.
Stoughton, WI 53589
Phone: (608) 873-3073
144 W Lincoln St.
Augusta, WI 54722
Phone: (715) 286-4700
154 N Iowa St.
Dodgeville, WI 53533
Phone: (608) 935-3812
More Christmas dessert ideas:
First Day of Christmas: Yule Log
Second Day of Christmas: Gingerbread House
Third Day of Christmas: Classic Sugar Cookies
Fourth Day of Christmas: Peppermint Bark
Fifth Day of Christmas: Cinnamon Rolls
Sixth Day of Christmas: French Macarons
Seventh Day of Christmas: Decadent Cheesecake