Food for Thought: The Jolly History of Fruitcake

A holiday tale as old as time, fruitcake is often scoffed at and joked about, yet it continues to end up in festive spreads each year. Why? 

Ancient Beginnings 

To understand its significance, we need to jump back to the very beginning. Like very beginning. It’s said that in ancient Roman times, soldiers created a portable bar made from pomegranate seeds, pine nuts, barley mash, and honeyed wine. These were long-lasting and packed with nutrients to sustain troops in battle. 

As dried fruit became more readily available in the Middle Ages, variations began popping up across Western Europe. In Italy, there was Panforte and Panettone, which is a chewy dessert containing fruits and nuts. In Germany, there was Stollen, which is coated in powdered sugar. In Britain, Plum Pudding emerged which was closely followed by its boozier cousin, Black Cake, from the Caribbean Islands. 

Plum Pudding 

Plum Porridge, the first iteration of Plum Pudding, was creamy, savory, and contained meat, sherry, fruit juices, sugar, and preserved fruits. 

When the meat was removed from the recipe and the mixture became more cake-like, Plum Pudding (aka Figgy Pudding) was born. This is the first form that became synonymous with the holidays as nobles in Victorian England gave out the stuff to carolers. And behold, a special shoutout in the classic carol, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” 

Finally, Fruitcake 

Once Plum Pudding transitioned to the now-known (loved and loathed) fruitcake, the rich and delicious treat was used in times of celebration – from weddings to the beginning of the harvest season. 

Coming to America and Commercialization 

By the 1800s it was common practice to gift fruitcakes in decorative tins during the holiday season. Large bakeries saw the potential and started mass-producing cakes and shipping them nationwide. This created an extra dense version of the homemade treat which caught the attention of the masses, including late-night TV show hosts that poked fun at the stuff. 

Since the cake is so dense, it can be kept for months, or even years, if kept properly. The tannins in the fruit create a slightly bitter flavor that softens with age. Many people “feed” the fruitcake with alcohol to keep it longer. 

So, where do we go from here? Well, we believe that fruitcake deserves another chance! So, we’ve got a totally delicious and modernized recipe that we think you’ll love. Let’s get baking! 

Modern Fruitcake


For the cake

8 tablespoons butter, room temperature

1 cup light brown sugar

1 cup and 2 tbsp all-purpose flour 

Zest of 1 orange 

½ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

½ teaspoon ground cardamom

¼ cup sour cream

2 eggs

2 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 tablespoon 

For the fruit mix

1 cup dried currants

½ cup dried tart cherries

2 ounces brandy or strong black tea 

1 tablespoon sugar

Zest of 1 lemon 

3 tablespoons crystallized ginger, roughly chopped

1 unripe pear, cubed

Grated nutmeg, for garnish  


The night before

 1. Mix currants, cherries, brandy, sugar, nutmeg, and lemon zest. Cover and leave to rest overnight.

 2. Pro tip: If you’re in a pinch and need the fruit mix now, combine the currants, cherries, brandy, and sugar, cover with plastic wrap, and puncture with a few small holes to vent. Microwave for 2 minutes and let cool. Add lemon zest and nutmeg. 

For the cake

 1. Preheat your oven to 375℉. Line a loaf pan with cooking spray and parchment paper. 

 2. In a mixer, combine butter and brown sugar. Beat until light and fluffy. 

 3. In a separate mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients: flour, salt, cardamom, and pumpkin spice. Whisk until mixed thoroughly. 

 4. In another mixing bowl, combine wet ingredients: eggs, sour cream, and vanilla extract. Whisk until combined completely. 

 5. Add half of the combined wet ingredients and half of the dry ingredients to the butter and brown sugar mixture. Mix until combined. Repeat with the remaining wet and dry ingredients. 

 6.  To create a rising agent, add baking soda to a small bowl or cup and quickly stir in apple cider vinegar until it reacts. Add into your batter mixture. Don’t overmix. 

 7. Add cubed pears and crystallized ginger to the fruit mixture. Fold the mixture into the batter until well distributed. Be sure to keep the mixture light. 

 8. Add mixture to the loaf pan up to 1 inch below the rim. Bake for 55 minutes or until golden and springy. 

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Category: Food & Drink

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