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National Fruitcake Day

Fruitcakes have long been tied to the holiday season, whether as a treat, or as target of jokes and ridicule. The earliest recipes for them date to Roman times, where pomegranates, pine nuts, and raisins mixed with barley hash were used. Fruitcakes became popular in Europe, where the fruits and nuts used in them were a delicacy. Thus, they came to be served primarily on special occasions such as weddings and during Christmas. Honey and spices were also common ingredients in fruitcakes in Europe in the Middle Ages. Their popularity in Europe rose with the importation of cheap sugar from the colonies in the sixteenth century, which allowed fruit to be better preserved. Native fruits such as plums and cherries were better preserved, but this allowed more fruits to be imported from around the world as well. Recipes proliferated all over Europe; recipes varied by country and changed over time. By the early nineteenth century, a typical recipe would be made up of citrus peel, pineapple, dates, pears, and cherries.

After gaining popularity in Europe, fruitcakes gained a foothold in the United States, especially in locations where fresh fruit was hard to come by. Nuts became a staple of recipes, most likely because a lot of fruitcake producers were located in the southern United States, where cheap nuts were prevalent. This helped lead to the coining of the phrase "nutty as a fruitcake" in 1935. Today fruitcakes are typically made of candied or dried fruits, nuts, and spices, and are sometimes soaked in spirits such as brandy. They come in all shapes and sizes; they can be round, oval, square, or shaped like a ring. Butter or cream is usually not added as the cakes are so sweet on their own, but some are covered with powdered sugar. Many believe the best fruitcakes are slightly aged; they are often made a month before being eaten, and with the proper preserved fruits and spirits, they can last about three years. Wrapping them in alcohol soaked linens also lengthens their shelf life.

The mail order fruitcake business began in 1913. Fruitcakes are also often sold from catalogs by charities for fundraisers. Beginning in the twentieth century, fruitcakes began being maligned. They have been referenced in negative ways in various television shows, most notably by Johnny Carson, who once said, "The worst gift is a fruitcake. There is only one fruitcake in the entire world, and people keep sending it to each other." On another occasion, attempts were made to destroy a fruitcake on his show, but the attempts were unsuccessful.

How to Observe National Fruitcake Day

Celebrate the day by eating a fruitcake. You could make your own, buy one at a store, or order one from somewhere. Truman Capote's aunt, Marie Rudisill, was known for her fruitcakes, and made some during appeances on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. You could make a fruitcake out of her recipe book. If you don't want to make a fruitcake, buy one from Collin Street Bakery or Claxton Bakery, which are two of the most popular fruitcake producers. Since 1995, the Great Fruitcake Toss has taken place in Manitou Springs, Colorado. After making, buying, and eating fruitcakes today, plan a trip to next year's festival.

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