"The Christmas Fruitcake: An Ageless Tradition"

In the spirit of the holidays, please enjoy this excerpt from an essay by Henri Marchand, contributor of History As It Happens: Citizen Bloggers of Lowell, Mass., titled "The Christmas Fruitcake: An Ageless Tradition:"

Like its subject this essay has been around, appearing first as a Sunrise radio essay, re-wrapped as a "Guest Column" piece in the Sun, and showing up on this blog last year. I re-gift it once more to all who either love or loathe fruitcake. Merry Christmas!--HM

I think there is no yuletide tradition so endlessly lampooned and so deliciously mocked as the once-esteemed fruitcake. Everyone loves chestnut roasting on an open fire, and even plum pudding gets an annual endorsement by the beloved Cratchits, but mention fruitcake, and people giggle. Johnny Carson suggested that there exists but one fruitcake in the world; it just passes from one unappreciative family to another. Calvin Trillin is reported to have commented that "There is nothing dangerous about fruitcakes if people send them along without eating them." And in Manitou Spring, Colorado, the Chamber of Commerce sponsors an annual Great Fruitcake Toss. The record is 420 feet, the waste is immeasurable.

Unpopular as they may appear to be, a web search turns up more than 2,000,000 fruitcake hits. Mail-order bakeries began selling them in 1913, and now sell thousands every year. There were times when the fruitcake was revered. Early recipes date to ancient Rome, but evolved over the years. The modern fruitcake originated in the Middle Ages with honey, rare spices, and hard-to-get preserved fruit from the Far East. In the 18th century nuts were incorporated, the cakes eaten for good luck with the following year's harvest. Due to the expense of the ingredients and a difficult baking process, fruitcakes were once restricted by law in Europe to special events like weddings and Christmas. Today the fruitcake is pretty much a Christmas Tradition. (Has anyone ever heard the refrain, "The bride cuts the fruitcake!"?) There are many types of fruitcake, but they're all basically a pile of fruits and nuts glommed together with a minimum of batter and often soaked in liquor for added flavor and shelf life, and then dusted with powdered sugar...

For the entire essay, along with many other great pieces, you can order History As It Happens: Citizen Bloggers of Lowell, Mass. at loompress.com.

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