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What is the History of Fruit Cake

Updated on September 3, 2014
Fruit Cake has taken many different forms over the years.
Fruit Cake has taken many different forms over the years. | Source

What Do You Do With Fruit Cake

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It’s perhaps the only type of cake that would lose out in a competition with Brussels sprouts. The dreaded fruit cake. Believe it or not, this little “gem” has actually been around for thousands of years. The history of the fruit cake dates back to ancient Egypt and Rome, and was once – dare I say – popular and almost revered. It’s true, the fruit cake actually didn’t earn its status at the bottom of the totem pole until it migrated over to the United States in the early twentieth century.

Fruit Cake Origin

As early as Ancient Egypt (which began BC), a version of the fruit cake was actually buried with the deceased. Ancient Egyptians believed the dead should be buried with all the supplies they would need for the afterlife, including food, and since fruit cake was soaked in a natural preservative like alcohol, it was the perfect provision to withstand the journey.

However, the earliest recipe for fruit cake is attributed to Ancient Rome (which also began BC). It was much simpler than the dense and jam-packed cakes you find today, including only pomegranate seeds, pine nuts, and raisins mixed into a barley mash. At this time, fruit cake was considered something of a prized possession thanks to its portability and lengthy shelf-life, and was actually carried into the battlefields by Roman soldiers.

Rise in Popularity

After burgeoning in Rome, fruit cake soon gained popularity throughout Europe. However, it was actually the American Colonies that really catapulted fruit cake into greater popularity when it was discovered in the 16th century that fruit could be preserved by soaking it in high concentrations of sugar. The colonies then created an abundance of candied fruit, which was sent over to Europe. This surplus not only allowed them to produce cheaper fruit cakes en masse, it brought a new denser texture to the popular foodstuff. The Crusaders were actually known to carry fruit cakes with them along their journeys because it was so hearty and resistant to spoiling.

Modern Day Fruit Cake

The introduction of candied fruit to the fruit cake recipe was just the beginning of the fruit cake’s journey to its modern version. During the Victorian Era alcohol was added to the mix, and in the 18th century nuts pretty much became a staple ingredient. The cake just got denser and denser as it made its way to the United States, and by the mid-twentieth century it was so weighted that most Americans considered more of a brick than a foodstuff. Perhaps that’s why it’s come to be used as a doorstop!

However, despite its poor reputation, fruit cake recipes continue to abound and change. Maybe in another thousand years it will rise back to the top of the totem pole.

Fun Facts About Fruit Cake

  • Fruit cakes can last for years without spoiling, if wrapped in an alcohol-soaked cheesecloth and plastic wrap of tin foil.
  • Though traditionally associated with Christmas, fruit cake has been used to celebrate marriages, religious festivals, and the birth of a baby.
  • Claxton, Georgia is known as the Fruit Cake Capital of the World.
  • Fruit cake was once the wedding cake of choice in England and single female guests would take a piece home to place under their pillow in hopes of dreaming of the man they would marry.
  • Every year, Manitou Springs, Colorado hosts the Great Fruit Cake Toss, a festival during which people see how far they can throw or hurtle a fruit cake.
  • A research poll of roughly 1,000 adults revealed the various things people do with fruit cake:
    • 38% give it away
    • 28% eat it
    • 13% use it as a doorstop
    • 9% scatter it for the birds
    • 4% throw it out


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    • MarieAlana1 profile image

      Marie Alana 4 years ago from Ohio

      I had to read this in its entirety. I feel good knowing that I'm not the only one that has used fruitcake as a doorstop. It is a great present for a white elephant gift exchange with seeing how it is given away so much. I didn't know that some fruitcakes have alcohol in them. I'd love to they one.

    • The Examiner-1 profile image

      The Examiner-1 4 years ago

      That was very interesting GIBLINGIRL. I would eat the fruit cake which I had unless it contained alcohol, then I would give it away, even though I would hate doing so.