The Legendary Christmas Fruit Cake Was Once An Energy Bar, Did You Know This?
Image Credit: Fruity and flavourful, fruitcakes are a special Christmas treat.

The table has been laid, golden balls and cute, mini Santas are dangling from the light green branches of the conical Christmas tree and the smell of cinnamon, raisins and baking powder is filled in the air. Does this look like the picture-perfect Christmas scene? Oh wait, what about the lavish Christmas feast? Christmas is incomplete without an array of delicacies, sweet, sour and spicy. While turkey and lamb leg are roasted as per traditional celebrations, the dessert section is laden with puddings, cakes, tarts and everything you can think of. One thing that stands out apart from the special Christmas pudding is the fruitcake. Although fruitcakes are easily available and eaten all around the year, it is the holiday season that adds a festive essence to these cakes. 

As I write this, my mother is busy preparing an aromatic fruitcake in the kitchen since its Christmas tomorrow. Just looking at process of how it is prepared, by tossing the dried fruits in sugar syrup and coating with granulated sugar made me wonder about who actually came up with the idea of a fruitcake. Interestingly, the fruitcake was originally an energy bar. Don’t believe us? We’ll tell you why.

From Energy Bar To A Christmas Special Treat 

Today, you’ll find a plethora of fruitcakes being sold across the globe in different shapes, forms and flavours but what remains constant are their roots. Traces of fruitcakes have been found in Egyptian tombs and since they believe in life after death, historians believe that they have been kept there for the survival of the dead. The most believed version of the tale says that Romans prepared a simple composition of honey, barley, dried fruits and wine and served it to their soldiers to reenergize them so that they can fight the battles. 

Going by this theory, a fruitcake served as an energy bar for the Romans in the Middle Ages. In fact, for the longest time, some kind of fruit bread existed in most cuisines and it was only later that the idea of fruitcakes emerged. These cakes transformed from being a basic honey and barley combination to a dessert studded with dried fruits that were soaked in rum or brandy and dipped in crystallized sugar. This candied version allowed people to preserve the fruits for longer periods of time and in turn, increase the shelf life of fruitcakes. This is what made these cakes super popular across Europe and America. 

Decoding Fruitcakes Of The British, The European And The Americans 

Those who have gotten closest to being a cake are the British and Americans. With high-rise cake tops, loaded with a plethora of dried fruits, the layer of marzipan icing highlights the British version as the more cake-like one. The Americans were introduced to these fruitcakes through the Europeans in the 17th century when they brought back sugar from the European colonies. While Europeans still continue to bake their fruitcakes as the medieval age fruity bread, the Americans were quick to adapt to the preservation technique of fruits and the tradition of cake mixing began around the same time. At the arrival of harvest, these fruitcakes started being baked to celebrate it and in no time, turned into Christmas special confectionary items. 

The mail-order business in America in the 20th century accelerated the spread of fruitcakes around the world, all thanks to the candied fruits and long shelf lives of these cakes. Today, you’ll find several versions of these Christmas fruitcakes being baked, from Germany’s bread-like stollen to the famous Italian panforte or panettone which is dense and the black cake of Caribbean’s. Romania offers you Cozonac while Portuguese whip up Keks during this festive season. 

So which one of these are you going to bake tonight?