Food, Festivities and Fruitcake!

Ah, the holidays: the time of year we celebrate with food, festivities and dare we say fruitcake?  Love it or loathe it, it’s an iconic symbol of the season.

fruitcake-1Fruitcakes date back to ancient Rome. Their compact size and long shelf life made them a favorite of Roman soldiers who brought them to the battle fields. An early recipe lists pomegranate seeds, pinenuts and raisins as primary ingredients. The cakes quickly became popular throughout Europe, with many countries creating their own variations. Dried fruits, honey and other spices found their way into the cakes during the Middle Ages, alcohol was added during the Victorian Era. When the cakes caught on in America, they became even sweeter and nuttier due to the low cost of sugar and nuts. They also became boozier, as alcohol-soaked loaves had a much longer shelf life.

So how did the humble holiday cake get so maligned? Some blame Johnny Carson. The late night show host once joked in his monologue that there was really only one fruitcake in the world, and it just kept getting passed around. However, even before The Tonight Show, fruitcake was the butt of jokes on Father Knows Best and the Donna Reed Show. But, public opinion may have begun to change much earlier in 1913 when the cakes became massed produced and available via mail order.

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Whether you are a fan or not, you might enjoy a few fun fruitcake facts:

  • Fruitcake has traveled to space. A pineapple fruitcake traveled on board Apollo 11 with Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong. However, they must not have liked it since it returned to earth uneaten and is now on display at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.
  • Truman Capote based a popular short story on a fruitcake baking escapade. Published in 1956 “A Christmas Memory”, tells the story of two cousins, one in her 60s the other just seven, who spend a day baking fruitcakes for an eclectic group of friends. The story in now part of many holiday celebrations.
  • Two American towns claim to be the “Fruitcake Capitol of the World”. Claxton, Georgia, and Corsicana, Texas, both boast the title. Collin Street Bakery in Texas has been making the cakes since 1986. And the Georgia Fruit Cake Company in Claxton, Georgia, claims to bake four million pounds of fruitcake a year.
  • December 27 is National Fruit Cake Day.
  • A cake well soaked in alcohol can last years. In fact, a Michigan family has a cake baked in 1878. Jay Leno bravely sampled it on the Tonight Show in 2003.
  • In the 1800s, unmarried English wedding guests would put a slice of fruitcake under their pillow to help them dream about their future spouse.

Now, we know there are tasty fruitcakes out there. In another tie to The Tonight Show, Truman Capote’s cousin Marie Rudisill published a collection of fruitcake recipes titled Fruitcake in an effort to improve the cake’s reputation. The book brought an invitation to appear on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Johnny Carson’s successor. During her appearance, Rudisill taught Leno and guest Mel Gibson the art of fruitcake making. It was such a hit that she appeared several more times on the show in her own segment, The Fruitcake Lady.

Whether you are enjoying fruitcake or not this holiday season, we hope all of our NevadaGrown family and friends celebrate and enjoy the season with family and friends – even if you believe a few of them are nuttier than a fruitcake.

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NevadaGrown is a nonprofit Nevada corporation whose mission is to foster the success of sustainable agriculture and to encourage healthy eating for Nevada's communities through education, support and promotion.

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