Fruitcake (or fruit cake) is a cake made with chopped candied fruit and/or dried fruit, nuts, and
spices, and (optionally) soaked in spirits. A cake that simply has fruit in it as an ingredient can also be colloquially called a fruit cake. In the United Kingdom, certain rich versions may be iced and decorated.
|Hand Made "Bourbon Pecan" Fruitcake|
Fruit cakes are often served in celebration of weddings and Christmas. Given their rich nature, fruit cake is most often consumed on its own, as opposed to with condiments (such as butter or cream).
The earliest recipe from ancient Rome lists pomegranate seeds, pine nuts, and raisins that were mixed into barley mash. In the Middle Ages, honey, spices, and preserved fruits were added.
Fruit cakes soon proliferated all over Europe. Recipes varied greatly in different countries throughout the ages, depending on the available ingredients as well as (in some instances) church regulations forbidding the use of butter, regarding the observance of fast. Pope Innocent VIII (1432–1492) finally granted the use of butter, in a written permission known as the ‘Butter Letter' or Butterbrief in 1490, giving permission to Saxony to use milk and butter in the North German Stollen fruit cakes.
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.
Typical American fruit cakes are rich in fruit and nuts.
Mail-order fruit cakes in America began in 1913. Some well-known American bakers of fruit cake
include Collin Street Bakery in Corsicana, Texas, and The Claxton Bakery in Claxton, Georgia. Both Collin Street and Claxton are Southern companies with access to cheap nuts, for which the expression "nutty as a fruitcake" was derived in 1935. Commercial fruit cakes are often sold from catalogs by charities as a fund raiser.
|Traditional American fruit cake with fruits and nuts.|
Most American mass-produced fruit cakes are alcohol-free, but traditional recipes are saturated with liqueurs or brandy and covered in powdered sugar, both of which prevent mold. Brandy (or wine) soaked linens can be used to store the fruit cakes, and some people feel that fruit cakes improve with age.
In the United States, the fruit cake has been a ridiculed dessert. Some attribute the beginning of this trend with The Tonight Show host Johnny Carson. He would joke that there really is only one fruitcake in the world, passed from family to family. After Carson's death, the tradition continued with "The Fruitcake Lady" (Marie Rudisill), who made appearances on the show and offered her "fruitcake" opinions. In fact, the fruitcake had been a butt of jokes on television programs such as Father Knows Best and The Donna Reed Show years before The Tonight Show debuted and appears to have first become a vilified confection in the early 20th century, as evidenced by Warner Brothers cartoons.
Since 1995, Manitou Springs, Colorado, has hosted the Great Fruitcake Toss on the first Saturday of every January. "We encourage the use of recycled fruitcakes," says Leslie Lewis of the Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce. The all-time Great Fruitcake Toss record is 1,420 feet, set in January 2007 by a group of eight Boeing engineers who built the "Omega 380," a mock artillery piece fueled by compressed air pumped by an exercise bike.
If a fruit cake contains alcohol, it could remain edible for many years. For example, a fruit cake baked in 1878 is kept as an heirloom by a family (Morgan L. Ford) in Tecumseh, Michigan. In 2003 it was sampled by Jay Leno on The Tonight Show. Wrapping the cake in alcohol-soaked linen before storing is one method of lengthening its shelf life.