There's A Fruitcake For Everybody: 3 Facts About the Iconic Christmas Dessert
Making fruitcakes has been an age-old tradition since the Roman times
It was a common tradition during the Roman Empire era to bake altogether pomegranate seeds, pine nuts, and barley mash to form a ring-shaped dessert. Its long shelf life and portable size made it easy for soldiers to bring it with them to the battlefields as food rations. Eventually, it was then mixed with honey, dried and sugar-glazed fruits, and spices during the Middle Ages, making it preferable for crusaders' pilgrimages as well as for the tables at homes. Centuries later, the fruitcake reached the shores of Victorian era England where it was then improved by adding in brandy or rum.
Each country where fruitcakes gained popularity has a local version of it. The Germans have stollen which distinctively has sugar powdered on top. The Italians have panettone, a soft North Italian yeast brioche with candied fruit, and panforte, a dense flat cake made with honey, hazelnuts, almonds, candied fruit, cocoa, and spices. A softer and airy version of fruitcake is popular among the Bulgarians and Polish who call it keks. While in the Caribbean, the fruits are soaked in rum for months before baking, making it a restricted delicacy for children. In Portugal, its variation comes with a tradition where each cake has a fava bean inside and whoever gets the piece with the bean is expected to buy the fruitcake the following year to give as gift.
Fruitcake has surprising longevity
As mentioned, the fruitcake is known to have brandy or rum in its recipe so it can last a long time and taste stronger as it ages. Alcohol diminishes bacteria, which causes food to spoil. This is why during the Victorian era, when fruitcakes were used to be wedding cakes, each guest receives a piece that they can either use as memorabilia or consume decades after. However in this day and age, it would be better to be safe when eating fruitcakes. Check the "Best Before" seal for your guidance and you'll see that it is best consumed within 30 days.
Re-gifting fruitcakes is not only a tradition, but a sign of the Christmas season
One probable reason why people re-gift their fruitcakes is that, they simply don't like it. After all, it takes an acquired taste to love a very sweet cake glazed with rum and stuffed with dried and candied fruits inside. But on another perspective, we may see it as an act of generosity where one shares a piece of cake to remind the receiver of the sweetness of life and their relationship together.
The Eraserheads hit song about the iconic Christmas dessert raises the question of "Do people really know the meaning of Christmas? Or is it just a season now of consumerism?" Sharing gifts, or re-gifting fruitcakes for this matter, reminds us that Christmas is not about self-indulgence but more of sharing happiness to others. After all one cannot eat a whole fruitcake alone, as "there's a fruitcake for everyone. There are piece sides to every story, if you decide to have some fun."
Besides ordering fruitcakes from your favourite bakeshop (or waiting for someone to gift it to you), complete your buffet spread this Christmas by ordering other holiday treats, dishes, and desserts. May you have a merry Christmas with friends and loved ones!