“Blame the fruitcake plague on the cheap sugar that arrived in Europe from the colonies in the 16th century,” said Robert Sietsema of The Village Voice. Whether it is the dreaded or devoured gift in your family, the fruitcake is a definite staple during the Christmas season. When searching for the old family recipe that my Nona makes, I began to ponder who first made a fruitcake and how it became such a part of the gift giving season. So without any further ado, everything you have always wanted to know about that delicious little cake packed full of nuts and fruit.
- The oldest reference that can be found regarding a fruitcake dates back to Roman times. The recipe included pomegranate seeds, pine nuts, and raisins that were mixed into a barley mash. Honey, spices, and preserved fruits were added during the Middle Ages as crusaders and hunters were reported to have carried this type of cake to sustain themselves over long periods of time away from home.
- In the early 18th century, fruitcake (called plum cakes) was outlawed entirely throughout Continental Europe. These cakes were considered as “sinfully rich.” By the end of the 18th century there were laws restricting the use of plum cake.
- Between 1837 and 1901, fruitcake was extremely popular. A Victorian “Tea” would not have been complete without the addition of the fruitcake to the sweet and savory spread. Queen Victoria is said to have waited a year to eat a fruitcake she received for her birthday because she felt it showed restraint, moderation and good taste.
- Fruitcakes are quite worldly. In Germany they are called Dresdner stollen and have more batter and less fruit than their American and English counterparts. Italians love their Panforte, which is a more chewy form of a fruitcake and is usually baked in a shallow pan and can be topped with chocolate.
- There’s even a Society for the Protection and Preservation of Fruitcake!