Once a beloved delicacy created for holidays and special occasions, fruitcake is now often a holiday joke. Its detractors note its leaden quality and gummy-bear-like fruits with scorn. But fruitcake still has its fans, who associate its rich spicy-rum-soaked sweetness with the most wonderful time of the year.
Our modern fruitcake can trace its origins back to the Middle Ages in Western Europe. Long before that, however, Romans were making “cakes” from barley, nuts, pomegranate seeds, and raisins (really, these were more like modern-day energy bars). In the early 1800s, fruitcake was outlawed in Europe for being “sinfully rich.” Later in the century it came back into fashion in England, where it became an integral part of tea time, as well as popular for weddings and holidays.
Some suggest that the demise of fruitcake came about because of its commercialization in the early 1900s, when heavily processed cakes became available through mail order. While there are still those who clearly like this type of fruitcake, today there are many more options available, especially if you don’t mind doing your own baking. Here are a few alternative recipes as well as some fun fruitcake facts:
- Alton Brown’s Free Range Fruitcake – Full of real fruit – not the “candied” kind
- Taste of the Tropics Fruit Cake – A light, fruity cake with coconut
- Caribbean Black Fruitcake – A dark, rum-soaked cake flavored with burnt sugar
- Chocolate Fruitcake – A chocolaty cake, with fruits, nuts, and a hint of coffee
Fun Fruitcake Facts
- According to Harper’s Index, fruitcake is as dense as mahogany.
- Johnny Carson made famous this quip about fruitcakes: “There is only one fruitcake in the entire world, and people keep sending it to each other.”
- In 2003, Jay Leno ate a piece of a 125-year old fruitcake.
- The bright green things in fruitcake are typically maraschino cherries, but can also be pineapple. We hope.
- Claxton, Georgia, where two bakeries make more than four million pounds of fruitcake each year, claims to be the fruitcake capital of the world. But Corsicana, Texas, home to another major fruitcake retailer, makes the same claim.
- In England, fruitcake is still considered the traditional wedding cake. Prince William and Kate Middleton had an enormous eight-tiered fruitcake for their wedding, a piece of which was auctioned off for $7,500 in 2014.
- The world’s longest fruitcake (yes, Guinness has a category for this) is more than 1,840 feet long and weighs almost 3,700 pounds.
- The Colorado town of Manitou Springs holds an annual Fruitcake Toss Festival, where participants compete in categories such as distance, accuracy, speed, and more.