Fruitcake. It’s a confection that seems to generate a lot of debate; people either love it or hate it. The royals, however, seem to be dedicated to these fragrantly spiced, fruit infused cakes.
When Prince Harry and Meghan Markle broke tradition in 2018 with their Amalfi lemon and English elderflower cake, they broke a fruitcake tradition that has spanned over centuries. This royal custom dates back to the Middle Ages.
Chris Dodd, a London based pastry chef, explain to Vogue that the traditional English wedding fruitcake is, “an elaborate mixture of re-constituted dried fruits, which have been soaked in fruit juices and an alcoholic beverage such as port, sherry, rum, or even whiskey. To these, a dark brown sugar is added, together with a mix of fragrant spices, butter, and flour. The final product is then coated in a marzipan layer, followed by royal icing, to create a smooth and elegant finish.”
Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth and Price Philip, Prince Charles and Princess Diana, Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson, and Prince William and Kate Middleton all stuck to the age-old tradition. But where does this convention come from?
Fruitcakes were served at medieval feasts, and thereafter was served at all important celebrations such as Easter, Christmas, weddings, and christenings. First and foremost, the cake rose in popularity because it remained in good condition for a long time (since there were no refrigerators).
There are, however, some more superficial reasons for the persistence of the ancient cake flavour through time. Apparently, the fruitcake was a symbol of wealth and prosperity because of the ingredients used to make it. Similarly, the cake was said to be a representation of the British empire – it comprised of ingredients (spices for example) that came from all over the world.
One other, huge reason is that a fruitcake allows the confectioners much more time to elaborately adorn the cake. We’re all aware that the royals are known for their massive, multi-tiered, over-the-top cakes. Creating those masterpieces takes time! The sugar-paste flowers which were used to decorate Prince William and Kate Middleton’s cake took five weeks to make. If they used a cake that goes off quickly, it wouldn’t have been edible by the time the wedding day arrived.
Finally, the royals have a tendency to stick to tradition. Once it starts, it’s pretty difficult to break.