Fruitcake: Holiday Tradition or Joke?

“The worst Christmas gift is fruitcake,” cracked Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show. “There is only one fruitcake in the entire world, and people keep sending it to each other, year after year.”

FruitcakeWe all hear the infamous fruitcake jokes year after year: “Why does fruitcake make the perfect gift? Because the U.S. Postal Service hasn’t found a way to damage it.” And, “If you don’t like it, use it as a doorstop.” But the epitome of all fruitcake jokes has to be the Great Fruitcake Toss held each year in Manitou Springs, Colorado, where people pitch them, launch them, toss them – everything but eat them. And if you don’t have your own fruitcake they’ll rent you one for a dollar.

People either love fruitcake or they hate it.

Fruitcake dates back beyond Roman times when the recipe included pomegranate seeds and pine nuts. Fruitcake was used to sustain Roman Legions during their long, arduous campaigns, as well as the Christian armies during the Crusades.
Why Christmas became synonymous with fruitcake seems to be unknown, but it is thought to have been started by English nobles who passed out a slice of plum cake to poor carolers in the late 1700s.

Europeans have been baking the dense, spirit-drenched cake for ceremonial celebrations such as religious holidays, weddings, christenings, and birthdays since the early 18th century. In England, it is still a custom that if unwed guests put a piece of wedding cake–usually a dark fruitcake–under their pillow, they will dream of the person they will marry. And of course, a Victorian tea would not be complete without a few slices of fruitcake.

101_DlxFrtck_Pkgg_Hldy_F03Fruitcake is thought to have made its appearance in America during the Revolutionary War. By the late 1800s, decorated tins became the packaging of choice for this hefty confection, and in the early 1900s, a Texas company founded the first fruitcake mail-order business.

Some of you may raise the question, “Does anyone really eat fruitcake?” According to a survey conducted by an independent research company, the answer to that question is less than one-third of the people surveyed admit to eating it, except in the South. It seems Southerners are a bit fonder of fruitcake – over forty percent say they not only eat it during the holidays, but actually enjoy it. Perhaps this is a result of the two most prominent bakers of this fruit and nut laden delicacy in America being located in rural Southern communities. Also the South’s abundance of pecans and walnuts is thought to be the reason why modern fruitcake recipes contain such a plethora of nuts (“nutty as a fruitcake” was coined in 1935).

In spite of this evidence, it’s apparent that people everywhere do eat fruitcake. After all, annual fruitcake sales in this country exceed $100 million. That’s equal to more than 20 million cakes. Even the Great Fruitcake Toss can’t dispose of that many cakes.

fruitcake2So for those of you who truly enjoy this traditional Christmas treat, we hope you’ll try our recipe for a delicious Old-South Fruitcake that is dark and moist. In it the candied fruits have been eliminated in favor of dried fruits, as we believe they are more palate pleasing.

And for those of you who hate fruitcake, sit back, have a double shot of eggnog, and hope Aunt Millie doesn’t give you another doorstop this year.

Buy Em: Collin Street Bakery, Corsicana and Waco, Texas; Eilenberger Bakery, Palestine, Texas; Claxton Bakery, Claxton, Georgia; Assumption Abbey Bakery, Ava, Missouri

Make Em: Chef Monte’s Old-South Fruitcake

Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies

TreesWhat would Christmas in America be without cookies? There would be no snack for Santa, no visions of sugar plums for the children and no edible decorations for the tree. Christmas it seems was, above all other holidays, invented with cookies in mind.

While Christmas cookies have been around since Medieval Europe, it was the Dutch settlers who introduced them to America during the early seventeenth century. In fact, the word cookie comes from the Dutch word koekje, meaning “little cake.”

candy caneOriginally cookies were largely hand formed. But by the mid-1800s, cheap, elaborately decorated tin and copper cookie cutters were being imported to this country from Germany. These cutters, often shaped as stylized Christmas images, were designed not only for making cookies to eat, but also for ornaments for the tree. The widespread availability of these utensils significantly increased the popularity of Christmas cookies, and recipes began to appear in cookbooks showing how to use them.

The term “cookey” first appeared in print in 1703, but it would be 1796 before the first Christmas cookie recipe was published in this country. In American Cookery, considered by most food historians to be the first American cookbook, Amelia Simmons wrote the following:

“Christmas Cookey
To three pound of flour, sprinkle a tea cup of fine powdered coriander seed, rub in one pound of butter, and one and a half pound sugar, dissolve one tea spoonful of pearlash [a rising agent] in a tea cup of milk, kneed all together well, roll three quarters of an inch thick, and cut or stamp into shape and slice you please, bake slowly fifteen or twenty minutes; tho’ hard and dry at first, if put in an earthen pot, and dry cellar, or damp room, they will be finer, softer and better when six months old.”

xmas treeThere is probably no better known holiday cookie tradition than that described in the poem The Night Before Christmas, written by an Episcopal minister named Clement Clarke Moore. Until it’s publication in 1822, leaving a Christmas Eve treat for the “Jolly Old Elf” was unheard of. During the Depression of the1930s, naughty children began leaving cookies and milk out for Santa in hopes that in exchange for the “bribe” he would leave a gift. Children who were good left the snack out as a token of their thanks.

Americans consume over two billion cookies a year, or about 300 for each person. How many of these are eaten during the Christmas holidays is not know. What is known is that Americans have enjoyed these delightful confections for over four-thousand years. This year, why not celebrate the wonders of the season by starting your own cookie tradition. With that thought in mind, may we present GrubAmericana’s classic Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies.

sugar cookieSugar Cookies, are also called Amish sugar cookies or Nazareth sugar cookies. This classic cookie was created by the Germans who settled near Nazareth, Pennsylvania in the mid-eighteenth century. In 2001, it was adapted as that state’s cookie.

spritzSpritz Cookies, also known as Swedish Butter cookies, originated in Germany and Scandinavia. The delicious vanilla flavor and rich buttery texture of this pressed cookie makes it one of the world’s most popular.

Christmas Citrus Squares. This modern take on the clasic seasonal bar consists of layers of delicate crust, red current jam, and a wonderful Clementine flavored custard.

Gaiety_Pastel_CookiesJello Pastels are a colorful, quick, and easy-to-make cookie that’s sure to be a big hit as a holiday gift, party treat, or just a family snack. So popular that you might think about making a double batch.

Chocolate Covered Snow Peaks. These easy-to-make chocolate dipped meringues are a favorite of Food Network’s Tyler Florence and will be one of yours, too. Why not let the children help with these?

cancy caneCandy Cane Cookies. The whole family will have fun making these fun decorative cookies to hang on the tree, or just to enjoy them with a warm cup of cocoa while relaxing next by the fireplace.

Big Batch Kris Kringle Cookies. This luscious blend of pecans, white chocolate, and dried cranberries is sure to turn even the loudest “bah-humbug!” into “ho-ho-ho!”

Chocolate Bliss Macadamia Cookies. If your family and friends enjoy the heavenly flavor of chocolate and nuts, this is the cookie for them.

glass starStained Glass Stars. As beautiful as they are good to eat, these cut-out cookies are sure to astound both family and friends alike.

Swedish Christmas Cookies. This buttery ice-box cookie has the lemon-cardamom flavors also enjoyed by the Norwegians. A true European classic.

Paradise Macaroons. These cookies are gluten free, yet unbelievably scrumptious—so sweet and moist. A double batch of these may be the order of the day.

Cinnamon Stars are a classic German gluten-free cookie that is sort of a cross between a macaroon and a meringue, with a hint of spiciness.

Hanukkah_Sugar_CookiesHanukka Cookie is included in recognition of our friends of the Jewish faith. This rich butter and cream cheese cookie can be rolled out, cut into holiday shapes, and decorated in any number of ways. Hanukkah (or Chanukah), also known as the Festival of Lights, is celebrated this year from December 8 – 16. Hanukkah is observed by the lighting of the Menorah, one candle each night of the holiday.

There you have it–a baker’s dozen of some of our favorite Christmas cookie recipes. So happy baking, and may this season bring you and yours everything on your holiday gift list and much, much more.