top of page

Article "But a fruitcake is forever, at least"

by Russell Baker, 1986


Kletzenbrot, German Christmas Fruit Bread

Photo by olgucz / CC BY

Christmas Fruitcake with bright-colored candied fruits

Photo by mbietz / CC BY

Annual Great Fruicake Toss: Man Throwing a Fruitcake

Photo by Andra DuRee Martin


Christmas Cake (in Canada), kletzenbrot (meaning Christmas Fruit Bread in German), Stollen (in Germany), gâteau aux fruits (in French), Keks (in Poland), Bolo Rei(in Portugal), Cozonac (in Romania), Bollo dehigo (in Spain), Birnenbrot (in Switzerland), Black Cake (in Commonwealth Caribbean), Plum Cakes (in 18th century England)


Fruitcakes were made to last for very long time. Historically, alcohol was included in fruitcakes so that it provides both flavor and natural preservative; however, today bakers rarely add alcohol because there are many other alternative natural preservative choices. [1] From a 1983 article called "Fruitcake is forever" by Russell Baker, he talks about how he inherited the family 221-year-old fruitcake that was baked by his grandmother's great-grandfather in 1794 as a Christmas gift for President George Washington. [15]


The name "fruitcake" can be traced back only as far as the Middle Age, but our ancestors already began making fruitcakes in Egypt at least 3000 years ago. [2]



As early as Ancient Egypt, an early version of fruitcake was made. It was not made to be eaten, but place on the tombs as food for the afterlife. [3]

The oldest reference of making fruitcakes can be found date back to Roman times. Recipes include mixing barley mash with pomegranate seeds, Pine nuts, or raisins. They were then form into a ring shape and cook. Since fruitcakes can last for a long period of time, crusaders, soldiers, and hunters carried the cake to sustain themselves when away from home. [4]


Their fruitcakes were unlike the ones we eat today. Food historians generally agree that modern fruitcakes began in the 13th century when preserved/dried fruits and nuts were added in the recipe. Those ingredients were imported from Portugal and the east Mediterranean, which is the reason why they were very expensive at that time. Fruitcakes were considered luxurious food to enjoy and usually saved for holiday celebration or special occasion. [5]



Fruitcakes eventually spread to all over Europe throughout the Middle Ages. By the 16th century, the cake had moved to the colonies of the New World. (South & North America) [6] In the New World sugar was grew there and it became abundant and cheap, which makes soaking fruits a common practice to give them more flavor and act as preservative for fruitcakes.


In the early 18th century, fruitcakes remained very expensive in Europe and England created laws that fruitcakes were only allowed to be served at Christmas, Easter, christenings, funerals, and weddings. At some points, fruitcake was even outlawed completely in the entire Europe because they were considered as "sinfully rich." [7]


By 19th century, sugar became more widely available throughout Europe, which makes fruitcakes cheaper to make. The cake was no longer merely for holidays or ceremonies, but a staple for many families.


Today, Claxton in Georgia and Corsicana in Texas are claimed to be the Fruitcake Capitals of the World. [8] Because fruitcakes can last very long, there are many leftovers and unwanted fruitcakes. Due to that reason, the Annual Great Fruitcake Toss was formed in the town of Manitou Springs, Colorado. [9] It is meant to create an event to repurpose unwanted fruitcakes. The contestants who throw their cake the farthest (with catapult, giant slingshot, spud gun, or other tools) will receive prizes in the end of competition.

Afternoon Tea with Fruitcake

Photo by dumbledad / CC BY

Prince William and Kate's 2011 Wedding Fruitcake


Stollen (German Fruitcake) Topped with Icing Sugar

Photo by seadam / CC BY

Chinese Fruitcake Celebrating 3-Week Old Baby

Photo by owen-pics / CC BY

Soaking Fruits in Rum in a Glass Jar

Photo by 4164326625 / CC BY



Fruitcake recipes varied greatly in different countries and regions. In some countries, fruitcakes are only served during special occasions and some are served daily. The cake also had rooted in their cuisine and became a part of their traditions.




In Canada, fruitcakes (or Christmas Cakes) are prepared like a loaf of bread and are usually more popular during Christmas time. In Anglophone Caribbean, fruitcakes are also called Black Cake because they include large quantity of rum or wine. In Bahamas, fruitcakes are consumed all year long and is very common to add rum before and after cake is baked.


United Kingdom


Fruitcakes are deeply integrated into the British culture, serving from as tea cakes to wedding cakes. For a traditional "Afternoon Tea," it will always include fruitcakes and spread. [10] In 2011, royal wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton had a 8-tiered fruitcake decorated with cream and white icing. [11] It was also once a custom in England for unmarried wedding guests to put a slice of dark fruitcake under their pillow at night so they will dream of the person they will marry. [12] Today in the United Kingdom, there are large varieties of fruitcakes, from extremely light to rich, crumbly to moist.




In Italy, fruitcakes (or Panettone) are lighter, almost like cake. In Germany, fruitcakes (or Stollen) are consumed during Christmas season and is common to top with icing sugar. In Ireland, there is a type of fruitcake that is specially eaten at Halloween called Barmbrack. Small coin or ring will sometimes hidden inside the cake to symbolize fortune for whoever finds it. On the other hand, in Portugal a fava bean is hidden inside the fruitcake and whoever finds it has to pay for the cake next year.




In India, fruitcakes are available all year long, but they are particularly popular during Christmas. In many parts of Asia such as China, Japan, and Hong Kong, the name "fruitcake" can also mean a layered cake with fruits. Asian version fruitcake is layers of sponge cake frosted with whipped cream and topped with fresh fruits.


New Zealand


Introduced by British settlers, fruitcakes are decorated with icing and fruits, and sometimes include alcohol like brandy or sherry. They are usually prepared for Christmas and wedding.



In order for fruitcakes to reach more flavors,  most bakers suggest fruitcakes to be made a month, or even a year, in advance. Legend says that Queen Victoria saved the fruitcake she received on her birthday for an entire year. [13]


If you want to make homemade candied/alcoholic fruits, cook fruits under low-medium heat with sugar, rum, or other spirits. The longer you marinate (soak) them, the more flavors in the fruits.


Butter a baking pan with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (160 degrees C). In the bowl, beat the butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add eggs and any spirits such as brandy or rum. Then fold in any juice, zest, ground spice, or chopped nuts. Add all the dried and candied fruits. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and baking powder and fold this into earlier cake batter.


Pour the batter in the prepared pan. Bake in the preheated oven for 1 hour. (Time depends on cake size and shape. For this recipe, it is for an 8-inch spring form pan) Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C) and continue to bake the cake for another 1 hour 30 minutes or until a long skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out with just a few moist crumbs.


Let cake cool completely. If brushing any alcohol, poke holes in the top with skews so flavors can penetrate inside the cake. Wrap cake with plastic wrap or aluminum foil. Brush cake once or twice each week with alcohol to preserve and intensify flavors. A fruitcake can last several months. It is safe to eat if there is no mold. [14]


A Slice of Tiramisu Cake

Photo by 21045446@N00 / CC BY

The word, cake, is of Viking origin, from the Old Norse word "kaka". [1] The Oxford English Dictionary traces the English word cake back to the 13th century. In other languages, cake is translated to Gateau (Gateaux in plural) in French and Torte in German. [2]


Cakes can be savory or sweet, light or rich, porous or dense. Determining whether a given food should be classified as bread, cake, or pastry can be difficult. [3] For example, banana bread is a quick bread, but it has a texture of a cake and uses same ingredients as if a cake would have. There are many dispute on what category these desserts should be classified, but why don't we simply enjoy these goodies!


The earliest cakes were very different from what we have today. They were more like bread and usually made with simple ingredients like moistened crushed grains or nuts. [1] In Ancient Egypt, emmer and barley were used to make cakes, breads, and beer. Only the wealthy can enjoy cakes made with milled flour. There was no sugar at that time so honey was the primary sweetener. Sometimes, nuts and fruits like dates were added in the recipe too. [2]


In Asia, cakes were mainly made with rice, called rice cake. ("Nian Gao" in Chinese, "Mochi" in Japanese, "Tteok" in Korean) [3] It was first made around the period of Zhou Dynasty, [4]


Cakes covering with icing were first introduced in Europe around mid-17th century when cooking tools were more advanced and more ingredients were available. Icing was first made with only sugar and egg whites. [5]


Cakes were not only a meal or dessert to enjoy, it was used as symbols and representation for religious ceremonies and occasions celebrations from ancient times. Starting from at least the 8th century BC China, it was already a tradition to eat rice cakes during Chinese New Year for bringing good luck in the coming year. [1]


The first known birthday cake was recorded in the first century BCE from the book, Tristia, written by Latin poet Ovid. From his book, Ovid mentioned about celebrating his birthday with a birthday party and cake. [2] Today, cakes still play an important role in family gatherings, holiday celebrations, and ceremonial occasions like weddings, anniversaries, Christmas, etc.


In different cultures and regions, different cakes are made to celebrate the same holiday. For example, fruitcake is the Christmas cake consumed in France, Germany, and United States. In Japan, a frosted sponge cake with strawberries are more common during Christmas times. [3]

After Baking, Poke Holes and Add Liquor on Top

Photo by 70118259@N00 / CC BY



chopped candied fruit and/or dried fruit, nuts, spice, egg, flour, butter, sugar, leavening agent



Juice, Jam, yeast, milk, vanilla extract, honey

Dried Fruits: raisin, dried cherries, candied pineapple, dried currants, apricots, figs

Nuts: walnuts, pecans, almonds, pine nuts, hazelnuts, pistachios

Spices: cloves, cinnamon, ground ginger, ground nutmeg, cardamom, ground pepper, salt

Spirits: rum, brandy, sherry, wine

Topping: Icing sugar, cocoa powder, fruits, alcohol




Ginger-Orange Stollen Recipe:

Panforte (Italian Fruitcake) Recipe:

Eggless Fruitcakes Recipe:

bottom of page