Fruitcake: An American Icon

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Fruitcake A certain stigma has always surrounded this glorious lump of food. The fruitcake: Loved by none, given by all. It is the subject of lots of jokes in American media because no one actually likes to eat it, yet it is still given away during Christmas. It has become a national symbol of tradition….rock-solid, nutty, disgusting tradition.

A fruitcake is made from dried fruit, nuts, spices and optional spirits. The cake itself looks delicious, as seen (left). The problem is, any bite into fruit cake results in the jarring realization that it tastes disgusting and is tougher than leather. Why?

Fruitcake was invented for medieval palates. It originated in the 1700s as a way to celebrate bountiful fruit and nut harvests. The cakes were baked at the end of the nut harvest and saved UNTIL THE FOLLOWING YEAR! They were then eaten in the hopes that the cake would bring luck to the next year’s harvest. However, this tradition was seen as sinful towards the 18th century, and fruitcakes were actually outlawed through most of Europe (probably the most sane act in the history of fruitcake). They later reemerged and became a sign of temperance rather than sin because of the year-long waiting period before you could eat them. Thus, fruitcake slowly became a staple at weddings, Christmas and “tea time” in England through the 19th century.

In America this tradition continued with emphasis on Christmas. Beginning in 1913, mail-order fruitcakes were born as a way to share Christmas love with relatives across the nation. Sending fruitcake was also a way to show how much you hated a relative, without saying it to their face. Some well known bakers were involved in 1913, including Collin Street Bakery in Corsicana, Texas, who still makes and ships fruitcake to this day. Their standard cake weighs 8 pounds (3 kg). This is probably why most Americans consider fruitcake to be a better doorstop than food.