American author A. Lee Martinez states that “Reality is like a fruitcake; pretty enough to look at but with all sorts of things lurking just beneath the surface.”
Yes, the heavy and dark cake that looks like it went through a coutless numbers of stages of baking and sounds like a fist thumping against a wooden table when set down on any surface.
We’ve all seen them in the movies, groceries, supermarkets, or grandma’s kitchens, and the dessert has been a holiday gift-giving tradition for many years.
Yet, there is a day made for the celebration of the cake that we all seem to find synonymous with a brick, National Fruitcake Day, celebrated on this day, December 27.
Despite none of us know the true creator of the fruitcake, many historians believe that it originated from ancient Rome, over 2,000 years ago!
It seems that one of the earliest recipes known includes pomegranate seeds, pine nuts, and raisins that were mixed into a barley mash.
Then there are records from the Middle Ages documenting that they added honey, spices, and preserved fruits into the original mix.
Starting in the 16th century, sugar from the American Colonies along with the discovery that high concentrations of sugar could preserve fruits, ended up creating an enormous excess of candied fruits, thus resulting in making fruit cakes more affordable and popular all over the world.
The fruitcakes that began in the Roman era are quite different from today, which can be iced, gluten-free, lactose-free, diabetic, alcoholic, or simply a regular old fruitcake.
And recipes vary from country to country, depending on available ingredients and tradition.
In any case, they share an interesting history in much of Europe and not only: It is said that in the 18th century, European-made fruitcakes were banned from production for having too much butter and sugar, because these ingredients were restricted for being unhealthy.
After these cakes were allowed to be sold again in the 19th century, they were common above all in high-class European weddings.
Typically, Americans produce fruitcakes abundant in fruit and nuts and, in America, mail-order fruitcake began in 1913, and most mass-produced fruitcakes are alcohol-free.
Some traditional recipes include liqueurs or brandy and bakers then complete the fruitcake by covering it with powdered sugar.
Charities often sell commercial fruitcakes from catalogs as a fundraising event.
But, either way, fruitcakes have an incredible shelf life, they can remain on the shelves for many, many years and still be edible and non-harmful to the humans.
An example of this is in a 2003 episode of “The Tonight Show”, where Jay Leno sampled a piece of a fruitcake baked in 1878 which was kept as an heirloom by a family in Michigan.
For years now, the fruitcake has been a joke in American culture, being ridiculed for its name and how it appears. A recurring example of this can be found in a variety of television shows and movies, where the fruitcake will fall on a person’s body and they will complain about it being as hard as a brick.
The reason that fruitcakes can remain edible for long periods of time is actually in the cooking methods: fruits and nuts are often dried and then soaked in a sugar substance, which means that they can remain on the shelf without adding preservatives.
In addition, some recipes also include alcohol, or involve an alcohol-soaked storage cloth during the baking process, removing harmful bacteria that decrease the shelf life.
Not by chance, some fruitcake makers soaked their fruitcakes in brandy-soaked linens believing the cakes improved with age.
In the Caribbean, the fruit is soaked for months in concentrated rum, adding an alcoholic flavor and additional years of shelf life.
Believe it or not, some brands are even known to have expiration dates twenty-five years from the production date!
To celebrate this day is easy. Gather the family together in the kitchen and make the fruitcake together.
Another way to celebrate this day is to try baking some variations from around the world.
For a German version, top it with powdered or spiced sugar, Caribbean with the addition of rum or, about Portugal, baked with a fava bean inside: whoever finds it in their slice bakes the cake for next holiday season!
Some cities in the United States also celebrate fruitcakes (or their dislike of them) by hurling them in slingshots with a prize awarded for the furthest flying fruitcake!
Fruitcakes may have had a humble beginning somewhere, but as time goes on, they became more popular, and sometimes…not in the way anyone would expect it to!
Images from web – Google Research