4 things you probably don’t know about fruitcake

Georgia plays an outsized role in this holiday tradition

Fruitcakes are a holiday treat many people love — and many more, it seems, love to hate. Stale jokes aside, though, the fruitcake has a long history that even predates Christmas itself.

It’s a food item that has withstood the test of time, played an important role in several cultures and comes with an astonishing sell-by date. And Georgia plays a big part in making the iconic holiday treats.

Here are four things you probably don’t know about fruitcake:

It lasts longer than you think

According to Mental Floss, fruitcake has quite the shelf life. The tasty, holiday treat can age 25 years and still be enjoyed, as long as it’s stored in an airtight container.

ExploreInside Georgia’s best-known bakery

In a 1983 New York Times column, Russell Baker claimed to own an enormous fruitcake once gifted to President Georgia Washington by a relative. After Washington allegedly refused the gift, as it was “unseemly for Presidents to accept gifts weighing more than 80 pounds,” Baker’s relatives allegedly gather each holiday to eat a small portion of the massive cake — even to this day.

The treat dates back to the Romans

The origin of the modern fruitcake can be traced back to ancient Rome, Culinary Agents reported. Ancient Romans baked cakes called satura — fruitcake’s great, great grandfather — with pomegranate seeds, pine nuts, raisins, barley mash and honeyed wine. The nutritious and long lasting treat was sometimes used as a field ration for Roman troops.

After the fall of Rome, different interpretations of the fruitcake began appearing across Italy, Germany and Britain.

Three of the largest U.S. fruitcake makers are in Georgia

Founded in 1910, Georgia’s Claxton Bakery has a rich history of making tasty seasonal treats. In the bakery’s first year of mass production, sometime around the mid-1940′s, the company produced 45,000 pounds of fruitcake. The item remains a staple favorite at the iconic eatery.

The Trappist monks at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia, have their own long fruitcake tradition. Like most Trappists, the brothers earn their income through sales in their gift store, including their incredibly popular fruitcake.

“Monk’s Fruitcakes are made by hand in our monastery kitchen using only the finest ingredients,” the monastery’s website said. “The result is a moist, Southern-style cake packed with generous portions of pecans, pineapple, raisins, dates and cherries. And, as a final crowning touch, Father Augustine ages his cakes with peach brandy and sherry to give them their rich, unforgettable flavor.”

The fruitcakes at Roswell’s Marilyn’s Gluten Free Gourmet come with a delicious history of their own. Diagnosed with a gluten intolerance in 2007, as reported by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, founder Marilyn Santulli made it her mission to craft tasty gluten-free treats. It all started with an especially crafty gluten-free fruitcake recipe. Now her products are sold throughout regional Whole Foods and Kroger locations, as well as Georgia’s Piece of Cake, Alon’s Bakery and Mercier Orchards.

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‘Tis the season, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is your No. 1 source for things to do, see and eat through all of the holidays.

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It was once used as space rations

While the original fruitcake was used to fuel Rome’s soldiers on their long campaigns, the modern fruitcake was once used to feed people even further from home. During the 1960s space race, fruitcake was a staple ration offered to astronauts — including on the Apollo 11 mission — due to its shelf life, nutrients and the fact that it did not require refrigeration or cooking.

According to Collin Street Bakery, the holiday treat even made it onto the Apollo 17 moon mission.