Fruitcake. What’s the story behind this much-maligned sweet? It’s a long one; the first recorded appearance of fruitcake dates from Roman times. Crusaders reportedly carried the long-lasting cake to snack on during their long march to the Holy Land (the MRE of its day?). In the early 18th century, fruitcake (then known as plum cake) was outlawed throughout continental Europe ― it was considered “sinfully rich”. That didn’t stop it from becoming a staple of the Victorian tea party, but Queen Victoria herself is said to have waited a year to eat a fruitcake she received for her birthday because she felt it showed restraint, moderation and good taste. (Seriously, who was she trying to impress?) The expression “nutty as a fruitcake” turned up in 1935.
If you’re a fruitcake fan, rejoice! It’s your season. If not…consider heading to Manitou Springs, Colorado on January 2 for the 11th Annual Great Fruitcake Toss. There you can toss (by hand), hurl (via the official Great Fruitcake Toss catapult) or launch (by any other means) your fruitcake in an attempt to win the distance award. Prizes are also given to the most beautiful, ugliest and most creative use of a fruitcake. Did you somehow manage to avoid fruitcake this season? Not to worry, local inns offer fruitcakes and coaching on tossing techniques. Contact the Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce for contest rules and entry forms at (800) 642-2567 or (719) 685-5089.
If you’re not a fruitcake fan, how about an alternative? My family always made Orange Slice Cake instead (that’s candy orange slices, not real ones) at Christmas. The recipe came from my grandmother—which makes it a little tricky when I try to figure out how big her 35-cent bag of orange slices would be now. I’ve decided it’s 11 ounces, but feel free to estimate. It’s one of my favorite recipes. Consider it a little Christmas gift from me to you.
ORANGE SLICE CAKE
2 Cups Sugar
1 Cup Shortening
1 tsp Baking Soda
½ Cup Buttermilk
3½ Cups Flour
Candy Orange Slices (11 oz bag), coarsely chopped
1 Cup Coconut
2-3 Cups Pecans (depending on how much you like pecans)
½ Cup Orange Juice
1 Cup Powdered Sugar
½ tsp Vanilla
Cream shortening and sugar together. Add eggs one at a time, beating well between each. Add a pinch of salt. Dissolve baking soda in buttermilk. Alternately add buttermilk mixture and flour to the mixture. Add orange slices, coconut and pecans. The batter will be stiff.
Bake in loaf or tube pan at 325 for about 1 hour and 20 minutes, then test with toothpick for doneness. Makes 2 bread pans or one large angel food pan.
TOPPING: Mix all ingredients and pour over hot cake.