I was at the grocery store today, and found myself picking up containers of raisins and currents. I looked for dried cherries, but will have to look elsewhere for those, and a few other items. With Thanksgiving and Christmas fast approaching, I have found my mind drifting toward … fruitcake.
Dare I confess? I really like fruitcake. Unfortunately, I rarely get to indulge because few people of my acquaintance will have a fruitcake anywhere in sight. If the subject comes up, it is met with either groans, laughter or (worst of all) the eyebrow lifted in disdain. Somehow, though, there is something about a cake full of dried fruits, nuts and spices that I really like (especially if a little good rum or brandy is introduced along the way).
Fruitcake of one kind or another has been around since the Romans. In my Georgian-era cook books, I’ve found a couple of recipes for different cakes with currants. However, my Fanny Farmer edition of 1896, and my great-grandmother’s 1894 copy of THE FAVORITE COOK BOOK have lots of recipes for fruitcakes of all descriptions. Apparently fruitcake was a specialty treat in the Georgian era and really came into its own in the Victorian era. They were a true special occasion cake, and were often used for wedding cakes. In fact, Fiona Cairns made a huge, tiered fruitcake for Prince William and Catherine Middleton’s wedding cake (see it here http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1381944/Royal-Wedding-cake-Kate-Middleton-requested-8-tiers-decorated-900-flowers.html). Every culture seems to have some version of a fruitcake or fruit bread. There is no clear indicator of when or why it became limited to a primarily Christmas dish, but that seems to be the tradition today.
When I was a child, I can remember fruitcake being a holiday staple, always around but more of a grown-up treat (thanks to the alcohol addition!). Unfortunately, by the time I was old enough to appreciate it, it had become a mass-produced block and was considered unnecessary at best.
For the last several years, I have considered digging out a recipe and making one. Some of the recipes are quite complex and time-consuming. A few items like the candied citron and the neon-green candied cherries will definitely not be included. However, this may just be the year I go for it. I’ve already made a start on getting the ingredients together. Who knows, a home-made-from-scratch fruitcake might find a welcome this year!
(Image from Wikimedia Commons.)