Johnny Carson once said, “The worst gift is fruitcake. There is only one fruitcake in the entire world and people keep sending it to each other.”
Fruitcake seems to be one of those things you either love or hate. I’ve never heard anyone say, “Fruitcake? Oh, I could take it or leave it.”
When I was growing up, the only fruitcake I saw were those small rectangle ones wrapped in gold paper. They weighed about 20 pounds.
My grandmother and great aunt always loaded up on fruitcake during the Christmas season.
I tried to like fruitcake, I really did. All those red and green candies look so pretty and festive.
Also, my mother loved it. She used to say she even loved really bad fruitcake. My mother always had good taste in desserts, so I wanted to trust her on this.
Alas, fruitcake was just too cloyingly sweet for my palette; even as a child I couldn’t get past the sweetness of all of those candies and whatever else was in there. Perhaps that was part of the problem.
Did anybody really feel confident they knew everything that was in those dense little cakes?
As an adult, I tried to “fix” fruitcake by experimenting with various recipes. Some were better than others, and my mother raved about all of them. None convinced me to become a lover of fruitcake.
In honor of December being National Fruitcake Month, I did some research and discovered fruitcake dates back to Roman times. The first recipes included pomegranate seeds, pine nuts and raisins, which were then mixed into a barley mash. Later on, during the Middle Ages, honey, spices and preserved fruits were added.
In Roman times, soldiers carried the cakes with them while they were out fighting battles. Later, hunters and crusaders would also carry along the cakes for sustenance.
Every age seemed to add something else to fruitcake recipes. In the 1600s, with New World colonies booming, sugar was added. The Victorian age added alcohol.
During the early 18th century, fruitcake was outlawed in much of Europe. Was this because so many people didn’t like it?
Just the opposite. It was seen as too decadent and considered “sinfully rich.”
The laws restricting eating fruitcake, though, didn’t last. It was just too popular.
The British, in particular, were fond of fruitcake eaten with afternoon tea.
It’s said that Queen Victoria received a fruitcake for her birthday and waited a year before eating it. Her majesty did this so she could model “restraint and moderation” to her subjects. Now that is a funny mental image.
I was talking to a friend about my fruitcake discoveries, and she assured me that she had the king of all recipes. She said even haters of fruitcake would love hers.
I sighed and took the recipe from her. It calls for dried fruits and nuts, what you would expect to be in a fruitcake.
The only real difference is that you soak the dried fruit for 24 hours in a large amount of rum. After baking the cake, you spritz the outside of the fruitcake with rum every day for three weeks.
That would definitely produce one “flavorful” fruitcake.
I wonder if that’s why she said everybody who tries it loves her recipe.
If I try my hand at it, I’ll let you know how it goes.
That is, unless I don’t remember.
Adlen Robinson is author of “Home Matters: The Guide to Organizing Your Life and Home.” E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.