It’s that time of year: fudge, divinity, Christmas cookies, gingerbread men, FRUITCAKE.
Now, I’ll be frank with you. I’m in the minority. I like fruitcake; actually, I love it. I was five or six years old the first time I had any. My piano teacher held a recital/party in her home one Christmas, and she served slices of fruitcake on her fancy little plates. I wanted more, but I’d been raised to wait for a hostess to offer seconds. If she offered me another piece, I’ve forgotten it. Of all the marvelous holiday treats my mother created at Christmas, fruitcake was never one of them. Her orange slice cake was as close as she ever came to making such a treat, and it was good. But not as good as a good old-fashioned fruitcake.
Since fruitcake has a unique texture and flavor that is hard to duplicate, and the fragrance practically shrieks “Holiday!”, I wondered where this dessert originated. I found out that no one knows for sure. My research tells me Roman soldiers had fruitcake with them waaay back in the good ol’ days when they traveled because it was, and is, virtually indestructible. They added raisins, pine nuts and pomegranate seeds to barley mash. Sounds terrible.
Apparently Egyptians tucked fruitcake in with their dead folks when they sent them on to the hereafter. I suspect the reason fruitcake was use instead of, oh, say, apples or oranges or a ham sandwich was because of the staying power of these cakes.
The Crusaders packed fruitcake on their own adventures. They brought fruit back home from long distances, but the fruits often spoiled. They found if they dried it, added honey and spices, it would make the trip much better. And because a lot of the fruits came from the Holy Land, it seemed appropriate to serve at Christmas or Easter, and hence our traditions. A thousand years ago in Italy, a thin chewy cake called “panforte” was made, and still is. It could be that this “panforte” was the result of the Crusaders ingenuity.
Its dense texture, color and flavor is dependent upon nuts, sugars, dried fruits, liquors, and a variety of spices. A fruitcake properly preserved then packaged well can be kept, unspoiled, for years. I doubt, however, that a good fruitcake has even a modicum of MSG in it.
Happily, I live near two places where fruitcake “to die for” is made. College of the Ozarks, in Point Lookout, Missouri offers wonderfully flavored desserts made by the students. http://www.cofo.edu/Page/About-C-of-O/Visiting-C-of-O/Sites-to-See/Fruitcakes-and-Other-Goodies.354.html
The Assumption Abbey, near Ava, Missouri is another welcome resource for a fruitcake lover like me. http://www.assumptionabbey.org/fruitcakes.asp
Lucky for me, my husband doesn’t like any of them, no matter where they come from. That’s fine; it simply means more for yours truly!
May you all have a blessed Christmas, with or without the glorious and dreaded fruitcake!
(this article previously published in Christian Fiction Online Magazine)