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A slice of traditional fruitcake.
Polish fruitcake.

Fruitcake (or fruit cake) is a cake made with chopped candied fruit and/or dried fruit, nuts, and spices, and (optionally) soaked in spirits. In the United Kingdom, certain rich versions may be iced and decorated. Fruitcakes are often served in celebration of weddings and Christmas. Also, the phrase "fruit cake" is used metaphorically in two ways: To describe one of weak or frail characteristics that do not uphold the expectations of others; and to describe one as "off one's rocker" or as one who has "lost one's marbles".

Contents

History

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, and the name "fruitcake" was first used, from a combination of the words "fruit" (Latin: fructus, Old French: frui), and "cake" (Old Norse: kaka, Middle English: kechel).[1]

Fruitcakes soon proliferated all over Europe; however, 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.' The Holy Father softened his attitude, and in 1490 he sent a permission to Saxony, stating that milk and butter could be used in the North German Stollen fruitcakes.[2]

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 fruitcakes more affordable and popular.[3]

In the 18th century in some areas in Europe, fruitcakes were made using nuts from the harvest for good luck in the following year. The cake was then saved and eaten before the harvest of the next year.[4] The fruitcake also remained popular at Victorian Teas in England throughout the 19th century.[5]

Fruitcake in various countries

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Bahamas

In the Bahamas, not only is the fruitcake drenched with rum, but the ingredients are as well. All of the candied fruit, walnuts, and raisins are placed in an enclosed container and are soaked with the darkest variety of rum, anywhere from 2 weeks to 3 months in advance. The cake ingredients are mixed, and once the cake has finished baking, rum is poured onto it while it is still hot.

Germany

The Stollen, a traditional German fruitcake usually eaten during the Christmas season, is loaf-shaped and powdered with icing sugar on the outside. It is usually made with yeast, butter, water, flour, zest, raisins, and almonds. The most famous Stollen is the Dresdner Stollen,[6] sold at the local Christmas market.

Italy

Panforte is a chewy, dense Tuscan fruitcake dating back to 13th-century Siena. Panforte is strongly flavored with spices and baked in a shallow form. Panettone is a Milan fruitcake. Genoa's fruitcake, a lower, denser but still crumbly variety, is called Pandolce.

Romania

Cozonac is a fruitcake mostly made for every major holiday (Christmas, Easter, New Year).

Switzerland

Birnenbrot[7] is a light, fluffy sweet Swiss fruitcake with candied fruits and nuts.

Trinidad and Tobago

Fruit cake, also called black cake is a traditional part of the Christmas time celebration. The cake incorporates a large quantity of raisins and rum and becomes a staple dinner item between the Christmas season and New Years'.

United Kingdom

In the UK, fruitcakes come in many varieties, from extremely light to those that are far moister and richer than their American counterparts. They remain extremely popular. The traditional Christmas cake is a fruitcake covered in marzipan and then in white satin or royal icing (a hard white icing made from softly beaten egg whites). They are often further decorated with snow scenes, holly leaves, and berries (real or artificial), or tiny decorative robins or snowmen. In Yorkshire, it is often accompanied with cheese.

United States

Typical American fruitcakes are rich in fruit and nuts.

Mail-order fruitcakes in America began in 1913. Some well-known American bakers of fruitcake 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.[3] Commercial fruitcakes are often sold from catalogs by charities as a fund raiser.

Most American mass-produced fruitcakes 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 fruitcakes, and some people feel that fruitcakes improve with age.

In the United States, the fruitcake has been a ridiculed dessert. Some blame the beginning of this trend with Tonight Show host Johnny Carson.[3] 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.

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.[8]

Other meanings

Referring to someone as being "as nutty as a fruitcake" implies that the person is mad, strange, insane, or very silly. "Fruitcake" is also used, especially in the United Kingdom, as slang for a gay person (e.g., "He's a complete fruitcake").[9] It is derived from the expression "gay as a fruitcake," which was first recorded in 1935.[3]

Shelf Life

Due to their alcohol content, some fruitcakes can remain edible for many years. For example, a fruitcake baked in 1878 is kept as an heirloom by a family in Tecumseh, Michigan.[10] In 2003 it was sampled by Jay Leno on the Tonight Show.[11]

See also

References

  1. ^ fruitcake - Definitions from Dictionary.com
  2. ^ Stollen history
  3. ^ a b c d Robert Sietsema. "A Short History of Fruitcake", The Village Voice, November 20-26, 2002.
  4. ^ Fruitcake history
  5. ^ Fruitcake history
  6. ^ Meyers Lexikon: "Besonders bekannt ist der Dresdner Stollen" ("the Dresden Stollen is especially well-known")
  7. ^ Swiss recipes, Grandma┬┤s Birnenbrot
  8. ^ Photos from the 2009 event: www.blueskiesbb.com/fruitcake-popup.html
  9. ^ Urban Dictionary: fruitcake
  10. ^ Fruitcake is family heirloom http://www.people.com/people/archive/article/0,,20097708,00.html
  11. ^ Jay Leno eats 125 year old fruitcake http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1817&dat=20031224&id=0R0fAAAAIBAJ&sjid=p6cEAAAAIBAJ&pg=6655,2002670

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