Hendricks County Flyer, Avon, IN

December 14, 2012

The unnatural history of the fruitcake

By Rebecca Todd
CNHI

— It's December! I'm so excited. It's not because I like snow. I don't. It's not because I like shopping. I don't. It's not even because of the joyous Christmas season, although I do like that.

No, this month is sweet because it's (cue pipers piping, drummers drumming, and ladies dancing - this needs a grand introduction), National Fruitcake Month; thirty-one whole days to celebrate the greasiest, slimiest, most-calorie laden confection ever concocted! If I get one this year, I will celebrate by feeding it to my dog, who will literally eat anything, including every toy I have ever bought for her.

I'd like to take a moment to thank the Egyptians and the Romans, as rumor has it they are too blame for creating the first fruitcakes. The Egyptians baked fruitcakes for the dead. Yes, it was regarded as the essential food for the afterlife. Therefore, the dead were often interred with loaves of fruitcake made with dates and spices. Burying fruitcake; not a bad idea.

The Romans made their cake with pomegranate seeds, raisins, and pine nuts, and then soaked it in brandy as a preservative. Roman soldiers would carry it into battle when they went out to conquer an inferior civilization. Modern day deer hunters reenact the practices of the Roman soldiers every fall when they go out in the woods, eat granola, and then wash it down with alcohol while they go out to conquer an inferior species.

For some reason, others around the world caught on to the Romans' recipe and thought it sounded like a good idea to throw a bunch of garbage into cake batter then soak it in alcohol. Obviously they must have done this because the cakes weren't the only things soaking in alcohol (wink, wink).

In later years in Germany, fruitcakes became endangered as butter was not allowed to be used in fasting cakes, known as stollen, during the holy season. Then in 1491, the pope sent out the infamous "Butterbrief" in which he stated that butter could be allowed only for the stollen. In other words, the pope liked his cake. German stollen subsequently became known as one of the most popular fruitcakes during the holiday season.

So now you've got your alcohol, you've got your butter, you've got your load of fruit, nuts, and anything else you can pick up off the forest floor. What's missing?

You want something done right or at least in the unhealthiest and disgusting manner? Enter America! Fruitcake gets it's final, fatal ingredient: sugar.

In the 1500s, explorers discovered vast amounts of sugar in the Americas. Of course their first thought was, "What the heck should we do with all of this sugar?" Naturally, not having anywhere else to put it, they threw it in with the rest of the crap and the fruitcake had its final ingredient.

Well, almost it's final ingredient. Today, fruitcake is just a little different. If you looked at the label on a fruitcake you picked up at a local grocery store, you would not see, "fruit, nuts, butter, sugar, and obscene amounts of alcohol" on the label. If you did, it would be a lot more popular than it is. That actually sounds kind of good. Instead the label reads like a high school chemistry experiment: xytham gum, chromium sulfide bicarbonate of battery acid and oxidized imitation cherry pits. Yummy.

So if you find yourself in the possession of a mass-produced fruitcake this season, I have a few suggestions for your National Fruitcake Month celebration. Either bury it with a recently deceased relative ala the Egyptians, send it off with a hunter in honor of the Romans, send it to the pope in honor of the "Butterbrief," or, you know, eat the whole thing in one sitting in honor of America.

Whatever you do, just don't send it to me. My dog will be too busy throwing up her Christmas presents.

- Rebecca Todd is a freelance writer and the author of the book "What's the Point?" available at booklocker.com. Contact her at btodd@tds.net.