- Fruitcake is a holiday staple, even though it’s often the butt of jokes.
- Fruitcake dates back to the ancient Romans, who mashed up barley, pomegranate seeds, nuts, and raisins and held it together with honey.
- It gained popularity as a dish for special occasions in the 18th and 19th centuries.
- People love to hate it, but it’s tradition.
To many, fruitcake is sort of like that one relative that you feel obligated to invite to Christmas dinner even though they’re dull company.
Don’t get us wrong – some people genuinely enjoy the sweet, sticky cake packed with fruit and nuts – but many don’t, and yet, chances are that it will appear at the holiday table anyway.
How did we get here? Why is the fruitcake a traditional holiday staple?
According to the New York Times, fruitcake dates back to a food enjoyed by ancient Romans called satura – a mix of barley, pomegranate seeds, nuts, and raisins held together with honey. Some speculate that this dish was invented as a way to preserve fruit.
According to Smithsonian Magazine, fruitcake gained popularity as a dish for special occasions in the 18th and 19th centuries, when its ingredients were expensive and harder to come by, making it a rare delicacy.
But people began to fall out of love with the dessert when it became mass-produced. Mail-order fruitcakes became popular holiday gifts in the 20th century – late-night talk show host Johnny Carson even quipped: “The worst gift is a fruitcake. There is only one fruitcake in the entire world, and people keep sending it to each other.”
Events like an annual fruitcake toss in Manitou Springs, Colorado, where people literally catapult these “hated holiday treats” out of their sight, indicate that tastes have indeed changed.
People may love to hate fruitcake, but they can’t seem to get rid of it. Whether they’re motivated by nostalgia, tradition, or a taste for loaves of dried fruit soaked in spirits, this holiday classic isn’t going anywhere.
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