Love it, or love to loathe it - December is National Fruitcake Month!
So maybe you didn't manage to finish off that fruitcake Aunt Betty is always so kind to bring you for Christmas ... every single year. The good news is, you still have time to enjoy it!
Fruitcake gets its name from the variety of chopped candied fruit and nuts that stud the batter and exterior of the round. The earliest known fruitcake, discovered via an ancient Roman recipe, included pomegranate seeds, raisins and pine nuts. During the Middle Ages, innovative minds tossed preserved fruit, spices and honey into the mix.
Recipes have varied over time largely due to what was available, although there was a bit of a kerfuffle when church regulations banned the use of butter because of fasting. But good old Pope Innocent VIII granted permission in the "Butter Letter" of 1490, specifically to use butter and milk in German Stollen fruitcakes. Yes folks, it's that official.
When explorers discovered vast amounts of sugar in the Americas in the 1500s, as well as the fact that a boatload of sugar could be used to preserve fruit, our favorite little red and green sugary nubs were born. In the U.S., mail-order fruitcakes began as early as 1913. Traditionally, the cakes are soaked in brandy to preserve them and prevent mold, although many of our mass-produced fruitcakes are free of any alcohol.
Although we may ridicule fruitcakes extensively here in the U.S., they aren't always used just for a doorstop or the Great Fruitcake Toss on the first Saturday of January. If you weren't one of the lucky ducks to get a fruitcake for the holidays this year, it's not too late to make your own. Just remember that your neighbors may not feel the same if you want to share.