Ever wonder why this cake has become a holiday staple, despite all the jokes about how much people hate it?

Well, let’s start by stripping off the layers of dislike. Up until they began to be mass-produced, fruitcake was a much-beloved special-occasion treat, made with care and considered a rare treat–and a long-lasting one.

The fruit in fruitcake is dried and candied (soaked in sugar), which means it’s well preserved. The cake itself is often made or stored with alcohol too, which in turn kills bacteria. The result? This cake can last. Up to 25 YEARS is the accepted limit (??) on its shelf-life, and apparently it was often traditional to make a cake one Christmas for eating the next. (Yeah. Sure. Why not.) Cultures around the world have their own varieties of fruitcake, with slight variations but equal presence.

So why did it get tied to Christmas? Well, it was reserved for special occasions for centuries, because the ingredients were costly. Fruit, historically, was not cheap, and neither were sugar and butter. It was a favorite cake for weddings, and of course, that most special day of the year–Christmas! So to give a gift of a fruitcake was thoughtful and would have been well received. People could treasure it, savor it, enjoy a bit here and then a bit there without fear of it spoiling.

Where do you come down on fruitcake? Special treat, or dreaded gift? Have you ever tried a homemade variety, or just the mass-produced kind? (I’d be interested in sampling a homemade one sometime! I’ll have to add it to my eventual-holiday-baking list.)

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