Sunday, May 28, 2023

A Condensed History of Fruitcakes

Fruitcakes. Where would we be without this strange and mystifying food? What would Christmas or even Christmas stories be like without their existence? And moreover, does anyone know why they exist?

These holiday-themed cakes are more like amalgamations of all your favorite Christmas flavors than they are any one type of cake. They’ve been regarded as a signature Christmas treat for a long time, and I mean a really long time. In fact, people have been circulating these treats during the Christian holiday for centuries.

Their origins are actually thought to trace back to the Middle Ages, a time when fruit was just starting to become available for people to dry and use in prepared foods. Despite this supposed origin, though, there are lots of cultures around the world that are known for similar cake-like concoctions of fruit and nuts. There are many variations to this unique dessert.


Panforte, traditional italian dessert from Siena. Source: Wikimedia Commons 

One of the more commonly known variations is called panforte, a chewy Italian confectionery whose main ingredients include the likes of nuts, dried fruits, spices, and honey.


Stollen-Dresdner Christstollen. Source: Wikimedia Commons 

Another variation of the Western fruitcake we’ve become familiar with is a German dessert called stollen. Stollen is one variation that has less in common with the fruitcake because of the fact that it’s more of a loaf or bread-like treat than it is a cake. It’s known for its buttery and sugary flavors.

There’s even a variety of a fruitcake that comes from the Caribbean, which makes sense, due to certain areas being products of colonization. The Caribbean has a signature Black Cake that has a pudding-like consistency and is made with lots of alcohol.

With all these variations available around the world, you still may be left wondering what exactly a Christmas fruitcake is made of. This area of understanding has become a bit muddled over the years, due to the fact that fruitcakes gained a huge popularity in the early 20th century, when they were able to be mass-made and sent via mail to friends and family members at Christmas.

Christmas fruitcake
Source: Pixabay

Because of its situation in American culture over the years, you may have even seen the fruitcake made fun of in popular culture or media. Lots of Christmas movies involve some kind of age-old joke about sending a fruitcake to someone in the family you’re not very fond of. Of course, these fruitcakes were never quite as authentic or fresh as homemade versions. If the people in those movies had real, homemade fruitcakes to send, they certainly wouldn’t be sending them to people they weren’t fond of.

The homemade versions require an intense level of cooking detail to give them their beloved and signature taste and texture. In fact, they require several weeks-worth of preparation. You make them step by step, adding different ingredients along the way. In that way, it’s a bit similar to Amish friendship bread, although you don’t need to keep mixing the batter and certainly don’t have to pass it along to everyone you know before it can be baked.

Amish friendship bread

Amish friendship bread . Source: Wikimedia Commons 

It’s very dense, rich, and filled with tons of flavors and components. They contain anything from nuts, to raisins, dried fruits like cherries, pineapple, spices, apple sauce, and lots of bourbon. That sounds like a proper Christmas treat to me. Rather than making fun of fruitcakes next Christmas, you might consider finding an authentic recipe and making one for a friend!

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Hannah Wyatt
Hannah Wyatt
Hannah Wyatt is a freelance writer from Morgantown, WV. She writes poetry, academic papers, as well as online articles and web content.


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