Fruitcake, Fermentation by Another Name


We never eat fruitcake because it has rum,
And one little slice puts a man on the bum.
Oh, can you imagine the pitiful plight
Of a man eating fruitcake until he gets tight?

A man who eats fruitcake lives a terrible life.
He`s mean to his children and beats on his wife.
A man who eats fruitcake dies a terrible death,
With the odor of raisins and rum on his breath!

“Away with Rum,” Temperance Union (Aussie Band)

Christmas cakes and fruitcakes, as well as the fruited breads so widespread throughout England, benefited from cooks’ hard-earned knowledge about the fermentation process. The breads mated with yeast and rose to great heights. Not so the cakes.

But the most ingenious technique came with pouring alcohol over fruitcakes, thereby assisting in the preservation of those door-stoppers so loathed by most modern eaters. A form of pickling, actually. But, as you will see below, somehow fruitcake got off track here in the United States when Betty Crocker stepped into the kitchen.

Copyright Mike Lane, 2007.

There’s no question about the noble origins of the American fruitcake tradition. English to the core.

The following list of Tea Breads/Spice Breads comes from Fermented Foods of the World: A Dictionary and a Guide, by Geoffery Campbell-Platt, a book  apparently worth its weight in gold, literally. (It sold for over US $500.00 once upon a time, but now goes for $12.67 right now.) A newer and more-up-to-date version appeared in 2009 as Fermented Foods and Beverages of the World, CRC Press, by Jyoti Prakash Tamang, for the more palatable sum of US $206.95.

Bara Brith (heavily fruited) – Wales, UK

Bun Loaf (no fruit, but rich in eggs) – Britain; West Indies

Currant Bread (with currants – Britain)

Devonshire Dough Cake (heavily fruited – Devon, Britain)

Dough Cake – (with currants, sultanas, and mixed citrus peel – W. England)

Fruit Bread – U.K.

Gauche – (rich in fruit, Channel islands, U.K.)

Guernsey Gauche (with currants and mixed citrus peel – Channel Islands, U.K.)

Huffler (without fruit – Essex, England)

Jersey gauche (similar to Guernsey Gauche – Channel Islands, U.K.)

Kentish Huffkin (no fruit – Kent, England)

Lardy Cake (fatty, with fruit and spice – England)

Lincolnshire Plum Loaf (with currants – Lincolnshire, England)

Malt Bread (with added malt and currants – U.K.)

Raisin Bread (with raisins – U.K.)

Saffron Bread (plaited, colored yellow with saffron, covered with almonds – Sweden; Cornwall, England)

Spice Bread (Yorkshire, England)

Sultana Bread (with sultanas – U.K.)

Walnut and Raisin Bread (with chopped walnuts and raisins – U.K.)

For more fruitcakes, see my previous post, Nutty as a Fruitcake.

© 2016 C. Bertelsen


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