Monday, December 21, 2015

Countdown to Christmas 5: Fit for a Queen?

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert
HRH at the Women's Institute Centenary 

Fruitcake fit for a queen! Sounds like a good marketing line, but  there are many claims which suggest that the fruitcake, has been and remains a royal favourite! 

" Fruitcake gets a bad rap because so much of what's sold is really not good," says Bob McNutt, vice president of the Collins Street Bakery in Corsicana, Texas,  which has been making pecan fruitcakes for 95 years. "It's like cars. You can buy one off the used-car lot for $100 or pay $300,000 for one." McNutt, who sells cakes to the Aga Khan and Princess Caroline of Monaco, was recently happy to learn that Queen Elizabeth II always travels with a fruitcake, which she eats with her afternoon tea." 

How did it all start?  As far back as 1674, the Guildford (UK) Show records indicate that a large plum cake was presented to the Duke of York who later was crowned James II. The fruitcake became so popular in England  in Victorian times that no respectable hostess would have dared not to serve fruitcake. While the origins of fruitcake may even be dated back to the Egyptians, the plum fruitcake became a essential menu item for special occasions - Christmas, weddings and christenings - and especially those associated with the Royal Family.  As already mentioned in an earlier post, Queen Victoria,lest she been seen as lacking in restraint and good taste, waited a whole year before she ate a fruitcake gifted to her. The young Queen Victoria's  own wedding cake by all accounts was a rich fruit cake (one 14 inch layer), but the recipe remains a secret...
"Thanks to royal reticence and tight-lipped bakers, the make up of many cake behind the frosting has remained something of a mystery. In 1840 the Observer described Queen Victoria's wedding cake in vague — if florid — terms as "consisting of the most exquisite compounds of all the rich things with which the most expensive cakes can be composed, mingled, and mixed together in delightful harmony by the most elaborate science of the confectioner."

Mary, Queen Consort and Queen Mother 
In "Edible Histories , Cultural Politics" there is one rather intriguing reference to an Anglo-Canadian lawyer, named Mary P Hyndman who claims:
" I sent one of these cakes [light fruit cake] to Queen Mary in 1949, having been first invited to visit her in the summer of that year, after which we corresponded . Thereafter I sent one to her each year, the last one in 1953.

Perhaps this is where the current monarch, Queen Elizabeth II,Queen Mary's granddaughter developed her liking for fruitcake. Queen Elizabeth like her ancestor in the 17th century was presented with a fruitcake as a gift in 1957 at the Guildford Show. Fruitcake tins like the one pictured below also suggest that Her Majesty has long  been a fan of fruitcake.  Fruitcake can also provide light hearted moments for Royalty . Earlier this year,  the Queen cutting the cake for Centenary celebrations of the Women's Institute made news headlines  by pretending that she couldn't cut through it because of its density - a joke shared at the time by the Princess Royal  and the Duchess of Wessex.  
Dundee Cake Tin 
Christmas cake 1992 
Could you imagine that this Christmas fruitcake, with its garish icing and rather comical Santa figure would be considered fit for the Queen? 
The cake was made for Queen Elizabeth , Christmas 1992  - a year of bad press for the Royal family. The sweet creation was something of an antidote to a troubling year for the royal family, former palace chef, Darren McGrady, says. "It had to be a fun one after what the Queen called the annus horribilis of that year," That was the year  Prince Charles and Princess Diana , Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson and split, and a fire tore through Windsor Castle.

The choice of fruitcake as a special  Royal occasion cake continues, however with multi layers and elaborate decoration.   
Prince George - Christening 

Record - Most expensive piece of cake. 
But if the cake is fit for a future king  or queen then the price will reflect that.  Recently a piece of the fruitcake served at William and Catherine's wedding sold for $7,500 US. The record for a piece of Royal fruitcake had previously been held by a piece of the wedding cake of Charles and Diana ($6000) and prior to that 2,730 pounds for a piece of fruitcake from the wedding of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip. Long live Fruitcake ! 

Tomorrow : Expert tips. 
Information /Photo Credits : Wikipedia, www,saveur,com,, Edible Histories. Cultural Politics , , 

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