People love to hate it and chances are you’ll see one somewhere this Christmas. It’s the dessert bread that no one makes any other time of year, fruitcake.
In every other context, bread is a beautiful thing. It’s a food so versatile that you wonder, how could you make this bad? There’s savory bread, sweet bread, breads that taste delicious dipped in soup. Then, there’s fruitcake.
Technically fruitcake is, well, a cake. But the loaf-like shape and dense nature of it lends itself more to the bread family. If you’re unfamiliar with the fruitcake, it’s a cake, or bread, filled with dried fruits and nuts then soaked in alcohol.
”Thirty-four years ago, I inherited the family fruitcake. Fruitcake is the only food durable enough to become a family heirloom. It had been in my grandmother’s possession since 1880, and she passed it to a niece in 1933,” wrote Russell Baker, a Pulitzer prize winning journalist, in a Christmas day column in 1983.
The New York Times reported that according to Baker, the cake had been in his family since 1794, baked by his grandmother’s great-grandfather as a gift to George Washington. The story goes that Washington sent the fruitcake back with a note stating it would be ”unseemly for Presidents to accept gifts weighing more than 80 pounds, even though they were only eight inches in diameter.”
So where did this dessert come from and why is it still around if even George Washington wasn’t a fan?
Fruitcake dates back farther than the 1800s, to Roman times. The Romans had a similar product called Satura, made with barley mash, raisins, pine nuts, and pomegranate seeds mixed with condiments and honey wine.
The cakes became popular gifts in the 18th and 19th centuries because of the costly ingredients and were considered an indulgence according to Smithsonian Magazine. Yet why the fruitcake became the cake of the Christmas season is a mystery.
The unfortunate fact is that fruitcake did become a Christmas staple and hasn’t gotten the hint that most people don’t like them. Even Johnny Carson took a moment to mention this holiday “treat.”
“The worst gift is fruitcake. There is only one fruitcake in the entire world, and people keep sending it to each other,” he said.
That must be the truth because I have yet to see one of these loaves sliced or removed from their plastic wrapped tins.
Some people love them, some people hate them. But we all know we’ll see them around this Christmas whether we want to or not.