Every year, the holiday season gives us the opportunity to revisit special traditions. Many of these traditions often revolve around food.

The winter holidays, in particular, are celebrated many times with a dense, sweet treat that some people love and some people hate. What are we talking about? The fruitcake, of course!

For some people, fruitcakes evoke memories of warm kitchens and the smell of spices in the air. Perhaps fruitcake was one of Grandma’s specialties that you looked forward to every year.

For others, fruitcakes are nothing more than tasteless bricks that make better doorstops than edible treats. For these people, fruitcakes represent unwanted gifts that probably came from a factory kitchen rather than a homemade specialty.

Fruitcake is exactly what it sounds like: cake made with lots of chopped candied or dried fruit. Fruitcake also typically contains lots of nuts and spices.

Some historians believe that the ancient Egyptians would put an early version of the fruitcake in the tombs of loved ones. They believed they were providing food for the afterlife. Given the impressive shelf life of most fruitcakes, they may have been on to something.

Fruitcakes weren’t very common, though, until ancient Romans began to mix pomegranate seeds, pine nuts and raisins with barley mash to make ring-shaped cakes. These early fruitcakes were easy to carry and remained edible for a long time, which made them popular with Roman soldiers who traveled abroad to distant battlefields.

Over time, other ingredients, such as honey, spices and preserved fruits were added to fruitcakes. In the 16th century, the popularity of sugar led to the discovery that fruit could be preserved by soaking it in heavy concentrations of sugar.

This preserved fruit — called candied fruit — made fruit available year-round in places where it couldn’t always be found. Candied fruit was imported in great quantities in the American colonies. With so much excess candied fruit, it was only natural to turn it into fruitcakes.

Fruitcakes layered with candied fruits and nuts were quite heavy and dense. A typical fruitcake might have contained citrus peel, pineapples, plums, dates, pears and cherries. Many fruitcakes had a density similar to that of mahogany wood!

Today, the average fruitcake weighs about two pounds. Although fruitcakes can certainly be delicious, they’ve declined in popularity over the years. They’re still a holiday tradition in many areas, but you won’t see them very often on restaurant menus or store shelves beyond the holiday season!

29 Join the Discussion

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  1. Dear Wonderopolis
    My mom said that her grandma made fruitcake.
    She also said that the fruitcake was NOT her
    favorite! I have never had fruitcake. Thank you for telling me all about that great cake.

    Janna T

    • Hey there, Janna T! We’re so happy that you’re WONDERing with us today! Some people LOVE fruitcake, while others would rather have a different dessert. However, we hope you get to try it for yourself to decide if you like fruitcake or not! :)

    • Hi there, Jerry! Not to worry, there are other desserts to enjoy! We’re glad you’ve tried fruitcake– thanks for WONDERing with us today! :)

  2. Today’s wonder was cool! I had fruitcake this Thanksgiving at a potluck and it was really good. It had pineapple and maraschino cherries in it. Thank you for today’s wonder! ;) P.S. I think tomorrow’s wonder or the day after, it will be about Christmas. :)

    • Great guess, Berkleigh! We are glad to hear you enjoyed fruitcake at Thanksgiving time! It sounds delicious! Have a SUPER day! :)

  3. Hello-

    Thanks for the great information about fruitcakes. I had no idea a fruitcake weighed almost 2 pounds. I do not like fruitcake but now I understand why it is still around…it has good memories for many people.

    • What a GREAT comment, Mrs. Howard! We think that many people enjoy fruitcake, but others would rather have another tasty treat. Yet, fruitcake has been for such a long time that it’s fun to WONDER about! :)

  4. You know what, between you and me, I never tried Fruitcake, my family might have never know about fruitcake. My mom and dad would love to try fruitcake, we have a bread called Panetone. I never tried Panetone too. :) :) :) :) :)

    • Wow, thanks for sharing another cool holiday dessert with us, Carlos! We think holiday traditions of all kinds are WONDERful! :)

  5. This wonder was awesome!! I’ve never had a fruit cake before but it doesn’t sound very appealing to me. Do you like fruit cake Wonderopolis?

    • Hey there, Mary Kate! Fruit cake has a distinct taste– and some of our Wonder Friends really enjoy it… while others would rather have something with chocolate for dessert! However, we’re so glad that you learned something new about a very traditional holiday treat! Thanks for joining the fun, Mary Kate! See you soon! :)

    • We really appreciate your comment about our fruitcake Wonder, Crystan! Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us today. We Wonder what topics you enjoy WONDERing about? :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Who invented fruitcake?
  • What ingredients are in a typical fruitcake?
  • What is candied fruit?

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FruitcakeVimeo Video

Try It Out

Ready to make some delicious fruitcake of your own? Check out the recipes below and choose one to try with a friend or family member. Make sure you check the list of ingredients first, as you may need to make a quick trip to the store before you get started.

When you’re finished, take a picture of your finished fruitcake and post it to Facebook for all your Wonder Friends to see. Be sure to tell us how it tasted. We can’t wait to see what you make!

Still Wondering

Using ReadWriteThink’s Creating Family Timelines: Graphing Family Memories and Significant Events lesson, children will interview family members and then create graphic family timelines based on important and memorable family events.

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