by Christopher Arnett
Native Foods Cafe
Well, the holidays are upon us, or rather, were upon us. It is a time for presents, family get-togethers, and (you guessed it) fruitcakes! I don’t know about the rest of you, but I grew up with the notion that fruitcakes were some kind of joke, an object of derision where one gives affected thanks through gritted teeth upon receipt of the vaunted dessert. But I always wondered, was the fruitcake ever an acceptable part of the holiday tradition? When and how exactly did fruitcakes get their bad reputation? And more importantly, should we continue to eat them?
Well, let’s start with the basics. What is a fruitcake and where did it come from? Basically, a fruitcake is a cake made with chopped candied fruit and/or dried fruit, nuts, spices, and perhaps soaked in some kind of spirit (like rum). Doesn’t sound so bad so far, right? Apparently, the fruitcake can boast of a history that begins in ancient Egypt and Rome, from which the earliest recipes come. It included such ingredients as pomegranate seeds, raisins, and pine nuts. Who knew the fruitcake when back thousands of years?! And though the Roman Empire may have eventually crumbled, the tradition of the fruitcake endured, surviving the uncertain times of Europe’s dark ages to remain a favored treat in the Middle Ages. By this time, the recipe would also come to include honey, spices, and preserved fruits. In fact, Crusaders would take them along because of how well they kept on long journeys (even then the fruitcake had a reputation for durability). Recipes would vary according to region and availability of ingredients as time passed, but the indomitable fruitcake would become entrenched in European holiday tradition. And when Europeans came to the Americas, sugar from the American colonies made preserved fruits more widely available. The wider availability of the essential ingredient made the fruitcake more popular, and it has now become an American holiday tradition, as well.
So when did the once-venerable fruitcake, steeped in European tradition since ancient times, get such a bad rap? As most of you know, the crux of the humor levied against this poor pastry usually refers to its heaviness and long shelf life. This is due to its alcohol content, allowing the fruitcake to outlive its would-be consumers. In fact, according to People.com, a family in Michigan keeps a fruitcake that was baked in 1878 as a family heirloom! Such stunning preservation has led many a comedian has taken a jab the fruitcake, including Jay Leno and the late Johnny Carson. In fact, many blame Mr. Carson for the beginning of the fruitcake’s place in popular culture as an object of derision. In Manitou Springs, Colorado there is even an annual fruitcake toss. No respect, I tell ya. Because of its bad reputation, the fruitcake is a heavily re-gifted item at a rate of 38%. However, December 27 is National Fruitcake Day, so at least some people are paying their proper respects.
So is fruitcake really that bad? If it was, it wouldn’t have been around for so long, right? More importantly, are there vegan fruitcakes? The answer is yes! The internet abounds with recipes for veganized versions of the holiday treats. Here’s one to try courtesy of Ener-G Foods:
- 2 tsp egg replacer
- 4 tbsp water
- 1/4 cup vegan margarine
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 6 ounces candied fruit mix
- 1 1/4 cup water or orange juice
- 1 3/5 cup flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp allspice
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Briefly whip the Egg Replacer in 4 tablespoons water until fluffy.
Place vegan margarine, sugar, dried fruit, whipped Egg Replacer and 1-1/4 cup water (or orange juice) in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and allow cooling for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and allspice together. Mix in boiled mixture and transfer to a greased loaf tin or a greased 8inch diameter cake tin.
Bake for 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool in tin.
And as it turns out, I had been an unknowing lover of fruitcake as a child in the form of pannetone. For those you that don’t know, it is a fruitcake of Italian origin that is part of the Christmas tradition in parts of Europe and South America. Unlike the usual image of fruitcake, the pannetone was light, fluffy, and delicately sweet. It would be great if there was a vegan pannetone somewhere out there. As it turns out, there is! Take a look at this one from Vegan Dad (the recipe was a bit long, so just follow the link).
It really does exist! Native Foods Cafe uses this photo courtesy of The Art of Life and Life of Art. vegan food, vegan restaurant.
Maybe if I’m good, Chef Tanya will make me a vegan pannetone. Definitely going on my list.
Well, that’s all folks. Happy Holidays and Peace to All (sentient creatures)!