Nov 21, 2017
by Ron Skaar
Culinary lore claims that an early version of the fruit cake was placed on the tombs of loved ones, by the ancient Egyptians. This was to provide nourishment throughout the deceased’s eternal journey.
The oldest reference for making fruitcake dates back to Roman times. Pomegranate seeds, pine nuts and raisins were mixed with barley mash and baked in a circular shape. This cake could be shipped around the empire and became a staple of the mighty legionnaires diet.
During the Middle Ages honey, preserved fruit and spices were added to the mix. Fruitcake continued to fuel the armies of Europe during the ensuing centuries. Its durability gave soldiers, hunters and, later on, the Crusaders the nourishment they needed on their long perilous journeys.
Modern fruitcakes originated in the 13th century with the addition of candied fruit and nuts to the recipe. These were imported from the eastern Mediterranean area, which added to the cakes cost. This made fruitcake a luxurious food which was reserved for holidays and special occasions.
Fruitcake soon became popular all over Europe. Recipes varied, dependent on available ingredients and, in some instances, church regulations which forbid the use of butter during devotional times. In 1490, Pope Innocent VIII signed the “Butterbrief” which gave permission to Saxony for using milk and butter in their “Stollen” fruit cake.
By the 16th century, colonists from the New World we’re indulging in fruitcake. Sugar from the American colonies made it much more affordable and popular to bake. They also discovered that a high concentration of sugar could act as a preservative for fruits.
During the 1700’s in Europe, a ceremonial type of fruitcake was baked at the end of the nut harvests. This cake was saved and eaten the next year to celebrate the beginning of the next gathering, in hopes of bringing another successful nut harvest.
In the early 18th century, fruitcake was outlawed entirely throughout England and Europe. The cake was considered “sinfully rich” with laws restricting its consumption to only Christmas, Easter, christenings, funerals and weddings.
Each progressive century seemed to contribute yet another element to the cake, like the heavy use of alcohol during the Victorian era. Fruit cake became an intricate part of the English “tea time” buffet so all restraints were off.
The mail ordered fruitcake became an American standard beginning in 1913. So many ubiquitous cakes were peddled from catalogs and for charity fund raisers, that it soon became a ridiculed dessert.
On his late night show Johny Carson joked “that there really is only one fruitcake in the world, passing from family to family”. In Manitou Springs, Colorado the “Great Fruitcake Toss” recurs the first Saturday of each year. They encourage the use of recycled cakes and the record toss (with a modern catapult mechanism) is 1,420 feet!
My uncle Lloyd used to send fruitcake every Christmas to our family. It sat in the fridge for months, at times untouched, until someone got the courage to toss it out. Any cake that has fruit as a main ingredient can be colloquially called fruitcake. The “Fruit Basket Cake” is the perfect finale to any holiday or special celebration, and won’t hang long in the fridge.
2 cups milk
5 large egg yolks
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
1 tablespoon butter
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups whipping cream
2-3 Tblsp. confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Basket of strawberries
Put milk in sauce pan and bring to a boil. In a heat tolerant bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar until creamy, then whisk in flour. Pour warm milk slowly into egg yolk mixture, whisking until incorporated. Pour back in pan and bring to a boil. Keep whisking until custard thickens, smoothing out any lumps along the way. Off heat whisk in butter and vanilla. Cool in a bowl covering the top of custard with plastic wrap.
Put one layer of cake on plate and smooth half of custard on top, allow half inch along edge for spread. Slice bananas and layer on top of custard. Arrange second layer of cake on top of first, smooth out the rest of custard on this layer and layer sliced strawberries on custard. Top with last layer. Whip cream with sugar and vanilla until stiff peaks form. Starting on the sides, ice the cake with the cream and finish along the top. Decorate top of cake with sliced kiwi and strawberries, or use mandarin orange slices, pineapple... Chill. Serves 8
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