“Oh my, It’s Fruit Cake Weather!”, declared Truman Capote’s character in A Christmas Memory. Each of the thirty one fruit cakes for which she joyfully gathered ingredients and skillfully baked were given to people who “struck her fancy.” It was a gesture of pure generosity and kindness; a way to create a connection.
Fruit cake wasn’t always the butt of Christmas jokes. At one time serving fruit cake exhibited net worth and social status. And much like Capote’s character’s actions in the story, the making and giving of fruit cakes engendered generosity and connection.
A Brief History of Fruit Cake
Fruit cake’s origins can be traced back to the middle ages when dried and candied fruits from Greece, Portugal, and Italy and spices from Indonesia became available in Britain. Though more readily available, the imported ingredients remained expensive and as such, rich fruit cakes were luxuries and reserved for special occasions which included weddings and holidays.
Variations on fruit cake began to take hold throughout Europe. Recipes and ingredients varied depending upon the region and in some cases church regulations regarding the use of specific ingredients. Italy’s Panaforte, or strong bread, dates to the 13th century. Yeasted varieties like German Stollen have been enjoyed since the 1400’s and Norway’s Jule Kake still make’s an appearance on Scandinavian holiday tables.
What precipitated fruit cake’s fall from popularity is a mystery. Maybe it’s the fault of mass-produced dry cakes studded with unnaturally neon-colored fruits. Maybe jokes popularized by late night tv hosts have skewed our perception. Though with over 400,000 pounds of fruit cakes sold by one bakery alone, our distain for fruit cakes seems a bit misplaced.
Whatever the cause, the fact remains that fruit cake is a holiday tradition. So, if you’re bound and determined to give fruit cakes as a holiday gift, stir in a heaping dose generosity and connection into each cake. And maybe include some updated serving suggestions as well.
Fun Fruit Cake “Facts”
- Russel Baker, an American Journalist, reported to have inherited a fruit cake baked by his great-great-great grandfather in 1794. Russel even cut into it and noted finding a fragment of a 1794 newspaper.
- Fruit cake traveled into space on Apollo 11. Sadly it wasn’t eaten by the astronauts, so it’s on display at the Smithsonian Space and Air Museum.
- January 3rd is Fruit Cake Toss Day and the residents of Manitou Springs, Colorado have celebrated with the “Great Fruitcake Toss” since 1996.
- A slice of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding fruit cake sold for $7,500 at an auction in Beverly Hills.
- Fruit cake was outlawed in Continental Europe in the 18th century because is was “sinfully rich”.
- The oldest fruit cake company in the United State is Collins Street Bakery in Corsicana, Texas.
The Best Way(s) to Serve Fruit Cake
There are several ways that I can think of to serve and enjoy this rich, dense holiday treat.
- Toast a thin slice of fruit cake. Serve with salted butter and a drizzle of honey or with cream cheese and apple butter.
- Make fruit cake French Toast. Dip 1/2-inch slices of fruit cake in a mixture of 4 eggs, 1/4 cup cream, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg. Fry slices in a skillet with melted butter and serve with bourbon whipped cream cheese. For a sweet and savory treat, serve with blue cheese whipped cream cheese and pear slices.
- Cut the fruit cake into 1-inch squares and top with a slice of aged Cheddar cheese. Arrange on a platter for serving.
- Fruit cake crackers. Slice the fruit cake 1/8-inch thick. If necessary, cut the slices into cracker sized pieces. Place on a parchment or silicone lined baking sheet and bake at 300˚F for 30 minutes or until dry. Allow to cool and store in an airtight container. Serve with sharp Cheddar cheese, gorgonzola, brie or your favorite cheese.
- Serve a thin slice of fruit cake with butterscotch sauce and whipped cream. This is luxurious, and decadent!
- Cut the fruit cake into 1-inch squares and dip the bottom half into melted chocolate chips or your favorite dark chocolate. Arrange on grandma’s favorite serving platter.
- Set a rack in the center of your oven and heat to 350˚F.
- Lightly grease a bundt pan, two 8-inch cake pans, or two large loaf pans.
- In a medium-sized saucepan combine water, raisins, sugar, shortening, cinnamon, salt, allspice, and cloves. Bring to a boil. Once boil is reached, boil for 1 minute.
- Remove pan from heat and allow the cool to lukewarm.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and baking powder.
- Add the cooled raisin mixture to the dry ingredients and gently mix until combined.
- Fold in the walnuts and candied orange peel, scraping the bottom and the sides until everything is well combined.
- Pour batter into prepared pan(s).
- Bake for 1 hour or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Times may vary depending upon the type of pan you choose.
- Transfer to a cooling rack and allow to sit for 5 minutes before removing the cake from the pan.
- Brush warm cake with brand or rum if desired.
- Allow to cool completely before wrapping in plastic wrap. Store at room temperature for 6 - 8 weeks.
Recipe Box Roulette
The rules are simple. Let your fingers wander over the recipes cards in the box, draw one at random, share it with us on FB Page or on your Instagram Feed. Remember to tag @theheritagcookbookproject and use the hashtag #recipeboxroulette.
Extra credit – make the recipe and share a photograph.