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Revive a centuries-old tradition at your reception
What’s one food that lasts (nearly) as long as love? Why fruitcake, of course, which is why the confection plays the lead in a handful of enduring wedding traditions. Although fruitcake tends to get a bad rap today, up until the 1940s, it was the top-tier choice for a wedding dessert. Famed Charlestonian Emily Whaley even wrote about the dark fruitcake served at her December 1934 wedding in Mrs. Whaley’s Charleston Kitchen, although she candidly pointed out that white fruitcake—the most popular type in the South today—was actually her favorite.
The tradition began in the 16th century in Britain, when sugarcane became readily available from South American colonies and the West Indies. That early white fruitcake had the same fluffy consistency as sheet cake and was laden with fresh fruit. But dark fruitcake was made with molasses and was much more dense. So dense, in fact, that long-ago brides were forced to cut it with serrated cake saws often made of coin silver. Here in the Lowcountry, dark fruitcake was the mainstay among 17th-century Charles Towne settlers.
Because dark fruitcake doesn’t easily spoil and its candied fruit stands the test of time better than its fresh counterparts, the molasses-infused confection suited wedding traditions perfectly. You’ve likely heard of keeping the top tier of wedding cake and eating it on the first wedding anniversary? And how about the custom of single guests taking home a slice, placing it under their bed pillows, and dreaming of the person they would marry? Pre-freezer days, these traditions weren’t easily fulfilled by sweets other than dark fruitcakes, which could last up to a year as long as they were properly wrapped to keep insects out.
Richly flavored, especially when doused with brandy, rum, or whiskey, fruitcake is perfect for warming hearts at a wedding. Liquor not your thing? Try icing fruitcake with a basic sugar glaze or a rich Bavarian cream instead. You can even decorate the top with sprigs of holly, whole nuts, or berries to suit the season. And if you’re not ready to feature fruitcake front-and-center, try it as the top tier of your wedding cake or even as a groom’s cake.
For an authentic Lowcountry recipe, check out Hoppin’ John’s Lowcountry Cooking. Author John Martin Taylor says his is closest to the recipe that Charleston’s Scottish (who settled along the Cooper River) used back in colonial days. We bet that if you give this long-lost confection a fair shake (find the recipe at www.charlestonweddingsmag.com), you’ll likely discover you want to save more than a slice.
Illustration by Lauren Roth