How many Christmas commercials do you see where the fruitcake gets passed as a recycled gift from family to family? No one really likes it! Finally it's given to the mailman, who gives it back to its original owners. Have you ever wondered if there is anyone out there that truly enjoys fruitcakes! But then again not all fruitcakes are created equal. So here's a little history about the origins and how it became associated with the Christmas holiday. The story of the recluse, a favorite dessert of some insane person, the CHRISTMAS FRUITCAKE!!
It turns out that the earliest mention of fruitcake goes back to ancient Egypt and the Roman Empire (from a Star Wars episode of "The Empire Strikes Back"). Later it was the English, who actually started the Christmas tradition. It was known back then as plum porridge, and it was eaten on Christmas Eve, as a transitional food after a day of fasting. Later, dried fruits, honey and various spices were added to the oatmeal mixture, and it was called Christmas pudding. By the 16th century, the oatmeal mixture was removed and some of the familiar ingredients of cake were added, such as eggs, butter and wheat flour. This was boiled into a plum cake. Wealthier families who had ovens, started making cakes using dried fruit and spices. The discovery was also made at this time, that fruit could be preserved, when soaked in large concentrations of sugar. It was now called "Christmas Cake", because the spices brought to mind the story of the Wise Men bringing exotic spices to the Christ child. The English gave out pieces of fruitcake to the poor, who sang Christmas carols in the streets in the late 1700's. By the end of the 18th century, there were actually laws saying that plum cakes (generic for dried fruit) could only be consumed at Christmas, Easter, weddings, christenings, and funerals.
Christmas cakes are made in a variety of ways, but are all some variation of the classic fruitcake. Some are leavened, some unleavened, some are dark, and others light. There are moist fruitcakes, and dry ones. Some are plain, and others are glazed, frosted or sprinkled with sugar. They also come in many different shapes. (Remember the brick shaped ones the schools used to sell?).
The cakes usually have red and green candied fruit, pineapple, raisins, and other dried fruit, citron, and pecans or other nuts, in addition to the spices. There is just enough batter to hold it all together.
|Assorted candied fruits|
Some cakes also have a reference of adding some alcohol to the fruitcake. Christmas cakes are made well before Christmas, usually in November, and the cake is stored upside down and put into an airtight container. Then a small amount of whiskey, brandy, bourbon, rum, or sherry is poured over the cake. This is called "feeding" the cake (more like getting it drunk). These "pickled" or "aged " cakes last quite awhile. It is said that the Crusaders carried them in their saddlebags, on their long journeys.
Despairing of ever being able to eat fruitcake without breaking teeth, some have used it for a doorstop. Comments have been made that "fruitcake congers up something rock hard and easier to cut with a welding torch than a knife". There is also another that says "Egyptian fruitcake was considered an essential food for the afterlife, and there are those who maintain that this is the only thing they are good for"!
In Europe, the fruitcake was associated with the nut harvests of the 1700's. The nuts were collected, and then added to a fruitcake, which was saved until the next year. At that time, it was eaten as a symbol of the hope for another plentiful harvest.
The Victorians loved their fruitcakes, and there is a rumor that Queen Victoria once waited a year to eat her favorite birthday fruitcake, because she felt it demonstrated discipline. Even today there is a custom in England, that if single wedding guests put a slice of dark fruit cake under their pillow, they will dream of their future marriage partner.
There are people that say " there is something wrong, wrong, wrong, with any thing that requires no refrigeration, and that birds, mice, rats, ants, and cockroaches won't eat".
Even though bakeries report that fruitcakes continue to be a good selling item, some are not being eaten. People are publicly throwing them away at the annual "Great Fruitcake Toss" in Manitou Springs, Colorado, and if don't have one to throw, you can rent one for 25 cents.
The fact is, the popularity of the fruitcake has steadily declined in America. So here is a closing quote, from the late Johnny Carson-"The worst gift is fruitcake. There is only one fruitcake in the entire world, and people keep sending it to each other".