I know, I know … Fruit Cake, the most hated cake in the world! I’ve heard all the jokes . . .
…“only good as a door stop”
… “found one in King Tut’s tomb and it was still edible”
… “advice is like fruit cake, something everyone gives, but no one wants”
… “a cake made during the holidays that’s heavier than the oven it was baked in“
but I LOVE fruit cake. There I said it! And this Scottish classic is one of my favorites. Why? Because it is made with sweet, thick orange marmalade, giving it a wonderful orangey flavor. And to be an ‘authentic’ Dundee cake, the marmalade should be made with Seville oranges from Spain. If you’ve ever had the opportunity to visit the beautiful city of Seville, you can’t help but gaze in wonder at the over 40,000 orange trees which line the streets. At times, the trees are bursting with so much fruit, the streets are just littered with these brightly-colored orbs.
Sometimes referred to as ‘bitter orange’, the Seville orange originated in China and was among the many foods and spices traded along the spice route. These trees were eventually cultivated in Spain and Portugal around the 10th century. Interestingly, these oranges aren’t really eaten in Spain. More than 15,000 tons are shipped to Great Britain each year.
How did the oranges end up in Dundee, Scotland? Because of a storm at sea! A Spanish cargo ship carrying goods and produce crashed into the rugged coastline in Dundee. Among the many goods on the ship were oranges. The oranges were ruined and couldn’t be sold, but a local merchant, James Keiller, bought the load at a discounted price. Keiller already sold jams in his shop and incorporated the oranges, fruit, pith and peel, into the recipe. Food historians say it was his mother, Janet Keiller, who then took the marmalade and used it in a fruit cake, now known as the Dundee cake.
Keiller was the first to successfully commercialize his brand of marmalade using these bitter oranges and is responsible for the popularity of Scotland’s sweet breakfast treat. When the British Trademark Registry Act came into existence in 1876, Keiller’s Dundee Orange Marmalade was one of the first brands to be formally registered. In the 1920s, Keiller’s was purchased by Crosse & Blackwell, a name with which most of us are familiar. That company was then sold to another very familiar name in the jam and preserves industry, Robertson’s.
Other historians say the Dundee cake is attributed to Mary Queen of Scots in the 1500s who didn’t care for traditional fruit cakes with all the glacéd fruits and cherries. To please the Queen, her royal baker then made a cake which only had raisins, almonds and the bitter Seville oranges. But the timelines vary too much for me. The Dundee cake is made with orange marmalade which seems to have been created 100 years after Mary Queen of Scots would have enjoyed it. Although marmalade has been around since Roman times, it was almost always made with quince and honey, as a way of preserving the fruit. The name “marmalade” actually originates from the Portuguese word “marmelo” or quince. Believed to be the first published recipe for orange marmalade was found in a cookbook written by Eliza Cholmondeley in 1677.
However this spice cake came to be, by the 19th century, the Dundee cake was served in tea rooms across Great Britain and was the dessert of choice for Winston Churchill and Queen Elizabeth II. As with many ‘historical’ foods, an application has been filed by Dundee bakers for protected status for this spice cake with the EU. The bakers’ hope is to keep this centuries old cake from becoming a cheap imitation of the original. Let’s hope the rights are granted.
If you’re a fan of OUTLANDER, I’m sure Claire and Jamie would’ve eaten a few of these almond-studded Scottish fruit cakes during their time at Lallybroch. I may not be a time traveler, but I am a fruit cake lover. And, if you are too, I hope you have an opportunity to make and enjoy this classic fruit cake over the holidays. Its perfect with a steaming hot cuppa!!
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References: Walkers, Wikipedia, Food List, 196 flavors, IFoodTV, Daily Record, Scotsman Food and Drink, Andalucia