Boiled fruit cake. Picture: Supplied
Boiled fruit cake. Picture: Supplied

The secret history of fruitcakes and easy recipes to make

By Lutho Pasiya Time of article published Nov 18, 2020

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From millennia past to the modern-day, fruit cakes have been constant. They have been a holiday food item for centuries and even though this time of year means there is no end to jokes about fruitcakes, they are truly as old as time.

A fruitcake is the perfect family treat during the festive season, although it can be daunting to bake.

A favourite of many grandmothers and elderly family members, the traditional fruitcake is made from dried, candied fruits and peels, with just enough alcohol-infused batter to hold its shape.

Looking back at the secret history of fruitcakes, a Yahoo contributor, Lonnette Harrell wrote in 2007 that fruitcake goes back to ancient Egypt and the Roman Empire. Harrell wrote that it was the English who started the Christmas tradition.

He said by the 16th century, oatmeal was removed from porridge, and more cake ingredients were added, such as butter, eggs, and a variety of dried fruits and spices, and it was sometimes called Christmas cake because the spices brought to mind the story of the wise men.

Harrel said it was a cake that would be kept without refrigeration, and that the Crusaders carried pieces of fruitcake in their saddlebags on long journeys.

So next time you roll your eyes at granny's insistence that there be fruitcake served as a dessert during Christmas lunch, maybe think about how much history and fond memories it holds for her.

Below are easy and tasty recipes that you can try at home.

Boiled fruit cake


500g cake fruit mix

125g butter

250ml sugar

5ml mixed spice

3ml cinnamon

5ml bicarbonate of soda

375ml cold water

125ml cherries halved

500ml flour

5ml baking powder

2 eggs, beaten

125ml strong brewed coffee

60ml brandy


Combine fruit mix, butter, sugar, spices, bicarbonate of soda, and water in a pot.

Boil gently for 25 minutes, stirring regularly. Remove from the stove and pour into a glass bowl.

Add the cherries. Allow cooling completely.

Once cooled, add the flour, baking powder, and eggs and mix until combined.

Pour into a lined, 18cm cake tin and secure double newspaper or brown paper around the outside with string so that the cake is well protected from too much direct heat.

Bake at 160°C for 60-90 minutes, or until a skewer inserted comes out clean. Remove.

Meanwhile, combine the hot coffee and brandy. Pour over the hot cake and allow it to cool in the tin.

Remove and wrap the cake in foil and store in an airtight container.

Gluten-free light fruit cake


150g butter

180ml castor sugar

2 eggs

5ml orange blossom extract

grated rind of 1 orange

grated rind of 1 lemon

375ml self-raising gluten-free flour mix

100g glacé cherries, halved

100g mixed peel

200g mixed dried cake fruit

30ml brandy


Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition.

Mix in the orange blossom extract, orange and lemon rind.

Add the flour and mix to combine. Finally, stir in the cherries and the fruit.

Spoon the mixture into an 11x20cm loaf pan that has been base-lined and well sprayed.

Bake at 160°C for 40-50 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.

If the cake starts getting too dark, cover it with a piece of foil.

Remove and cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning onto a cooling rack.

Note: The recipe was made using Nature’s Choice gluten-free self-raising flour.

If you don’t have a gluten intolerance, this recipe also works using cake wheat self-raising flour.

Recipes by Angela Day

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