Fruitcake. Love it or hate it, you know it’s the holiday season when you find one on the kitchen table. But what are the origins of the fruitcake tradition? What made our ancestors so excited over these dried cakes with candied fruits and nuts? It wasn’t some cruel prank that started 100 years ago. It turns out that the fruitcake tradition goes back way further than we imagined. And, fruitcake may not be as bad as you think!
Fruitcake Tradition Goes Back to Ancient Rome
Back in Ancient Rome, they came up with a fruitcake that was made out of barley, pomegranate, nuts, and raisins. If anything, this was not meant to be a dessert, but more of an energy bar. Think of it as one of those overly sweet granola bars that you can find at the supermarket, but without all of the lovely chemicals, preservatives, and high-fructose corn syrup that we are blessed to ingest today.
Many years later, dried fruits became the new kale and were immediately inserted into these cakey mixtures. Soon, all over Europe, a bunch of similar cakes with dried fruits and spices began popping up all over the place. Think of similar desserts such as the German “Stollen” or the Dutch “Kerststol”. They soon became more and more expensive, which caused them to only really show up during the holidays, or other big celebrations, such as weddings.
Why were they so expensive? Generally, only the wealthy were able to afford the tropical fruits (oranges, lemons, pineapples, etc). The fruits, which usually had to be dried or candied to last the long journey back home to places such as the UK and US, were a sign of wealth, as was “wasting” alcohol by drowning the cakes in booze. And this was nice alcohol, too. Could you imagine the king and queen handing out fruitcakes soaked in Keystone or Bud Light?