A Rundown of the Christmas Season’s Most Infamous Cake
Oh fruitcake…what pity I feel for you. You, in all of your overwhelming sweetness, never asked to become the tradition you are now. On your own, there is nothing particularly offensive about you, yet when you are given to another you find yourself relegated to lonely cupboards and trashcans all around the world. The real question is, how has such an underappreciated or just plain lousy (depending on personal taste) food gained such cultural prevalence? To understand we must look back some 2000 years ago.
Ancient Romans, the inventive people they were, created the first “fruitcakes” using a mishmash of barley, seeds and raisins. These cakes, while similar in form, did not possess the sickly sweet preserved flavor of those today, which were first introduced in the Middle Ages, as dried fruit and sugar became more widely available. The fruitcake quickly spread through Europe, and like a species of its own, evolved differently depending on the environment surrounding it.
Britain had rum soaked plum pudding, a common gift for weddings and holidays (sound familiar?) Germany had stollen, which was more buttery than fruity, and to this day has its own festival, Dresdner Stollenfest. Over the years, as fruitcake spread culturally and globally, it slowly transformed from a traditional dish served at gatherings of all kinds, to one served almost exclusively during the Christmas season. But a question still remains: how did a once beloved dish acquire such infamy and disdain?
The answer to that question lies somewhere within the jumbled mess that is American media and consumerism. The United States first began mass-producing fruitcake in the early 20th century. With this came a loss of quality, as the mass produced fruitcakes lacked the touch and intricacies of homemade fruitcake; instead, many found these cakes overwhelmingly sweet. Thus began the cultural movement against the poor fruitcake.
It became the butt of jokes on televisions shows all across the country, such as Father Knows Best, and The Donna Reed Show. The Tonight Show host Johnny Carson famously proclaimed “ The worst Christmas gift is fruitcake…there is only one fruitcake in the entire world, and people keep sending it to each other, year after year.”
Despite its reputation, many still adore and eat fruitcakes every year. Do not solely base your opinion of fruitcake on its social stigma, give it a try and see if you enjoy it! Heck, maybe even look up a recipe and take a crack at making some fruitcake. Who knows, maybe you’ll enjoy it just enough for it to become your new Christmas tradition (just don’t gift it to your family members!)