Survival Fruitcake Recipe That Lasts for Years (2024)

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Estimated reading time: 20 minutes

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Some of us like fruitcake. And then, some of us never got past that first bite. And that’s too bad. Fruitcake is an ancient recipe going back to the middle-ages and was one of the most nutritious foods of its time. It was also one of the most expensive back then, and it was typically reserved for the Christmas holidays as a special treat.

What’s surprising about fruitcake is its curiously long shelf-life. In fact, many fruitcake recipes recommend months of aging after baking to fully develop the flavors and “mature” the cake. Better yet, it’s still one of the most nutritious foods we can eat and the combination of long-shelf life and nutrient density makes it an ideal survival food. The only catch is that even the most basic fruitcake recipes get a little complicated.

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The Secret Recipes…

We’re going to explore a lot about fruitcake including a basic recipe to define the concept. And we’re talking about homemade fruitcake here.Commercially produced fruitcakes may not have quite the shelf-life of a homemade fruitcake, and if they do it’s most likely due to artificial preservatives across a range of chemicals.

We’ll then get into an ultimate survival fruitcake recipe and finally, we’ll explore a pioneer fruitcake recipe that is totally foraged with wild ingredients and prepared and baked off grid. That should pretty much cover the survival aspects of fruitcake, but there are a few other things to remember.

Why Fruitcake Lasts and Lasts

Fruitcake has a unique quality that anyone who has ever tried can no doubt remember. It is a very dense and heavy cake. This high density restricts the air-flow into the texture of the cake, resisting bacterial infiltration.

Another factor is what is called “low water activity,” meaning fruitcakes have very little moisture available. Low water activity is important because many microorganisms, including food-borne illness-causing bacteria, need moisture in order to reproduce.

Another preservative factor is that the fruit and nuts used in fruitcakes are dried. This also enhances low water activity, further inhibiting bacterial growth.

Sugar is a standard ingredient in fruit cake although honey, molasses or maple syrup can be substituted and all of them possess preservative qualities. In fact, honey was found in a clay jar in a 3,000 year-old ancient Egyptian tomb and was still edible with no signs of bacterial contamination.

Finally, alcohol is a common and traditional ingredient in most fruit cake recipes, especially rum. The preservative qualities of alcohol are well known and not only inhibit bacterial growth but kill any bacteria present or appearing. For anyone with an aversion to alcohol, apple cider, orange juice and even tea can be used.

The alcohol is typically used to rehydrate the dried fruits and is used intermittently to pour or spritz over the top of the fruitcake as it ages to enhance its flavor and once again, inhibit bacterial growth.

While all of this sounds encouraging, it should be noted that the U.S. Department of agriculture (USDA) recommends that fruitcake be refrigerated and consumed within 2 to 3 months or up to a year if frozen. That’s to be expected from the USDA, and if you’re shy about eating fruitcake beyond that time, you should follow their recommendation.

Then again, the USDA always leans towards the side of caution, and people have eaten fruitcakes more than a hundred years old more than a few times including a fruitcake found in the Antarctic camp of Sir Robert Scott that was over 100 years old. The explorers who discovered it said it was still good and suffered no ill effects from eating it, although they said the taste left something to be desired.

Packaging and Storing Fruit Cake for the Long-term

A recurring packaging idea is to wrap the fruitcake in several layers of cheesecloth that is then saturated with rum. This is then wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and sealed in an air tight container made from with plastic or metal.

Metal boxes are a traditional package for many store-bought fruitcakes, but make sure the rum soaked cheesecloth is separated from any type of metal with plastic wrap or deterioration of the metal could result. That includes wrapping your rum soaked fruitcake in aluminum foil.

Storage recommendations vary. Refrigerating or freezing is a safe bet but a properly made fruitcake can remain shelf-stable if stored in the proverbial cool, dark place. Pantries, basem*nts and even root cellars are possibilities but it seems best to store them indoors in an out of the way place.

There is also a recommendation that the fruitcake be sprinkled with a capful of rum about once a week from time to time, and that’s easier to do if it’s close at hand and easy to find.

This rum sprinkling is usually done in the first month at least once a week after the fruitcake is baked, and usually involves nothing more than pouring some rum over the cheesecloth to keep the cake moist before resealing for continued storage. This seasoning step should be done over weeks before you start refrigerating or freezing the fruitcake.

Fruitcake is a Little Complicated

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There are a few things to brace yourself for if this is the first time you’ve made a fruit cake. Here are some of the gentle surprises you’ll encounter in most fruit cake recipes:

  • There are a lot of ingredients. When you look at the ingredient list for a fruitcake, they seem to go on and on. There are some substitute ingredients you can use, and we’ll identify them in each recipe. That’s particularly important when times are tough and some things are just hard to come by. We’ll also get into some off-grid, wild-foraged possibilities in the pioneer recipe.
  • It takes a long time to make before you bake. You’ll need to soak your dried fruits in rum for 24 hours or at least overnight even before you think about making a batter. The batter is a little complicated as well with various preliminary steps leading up to the final fruitcake batter.
  • It’s not just about baking. A traditional recommendation is to steam the batter in the cake pan for 1 to 2 hours before baking. This helps to create the final density and also enhances preservative properties. You can skip the steaming step if you must, but that breaks with tradition and you may sacrifice some shelf-life. After the steaming step you bake in the oven, but you’re not done yet.
  • A fruitcake needs to age. There have been many comparisons to fine wine and fruitcake and proper aging of a fruitcake not only improves the flavor, but the weekly addition of rum to the fruitcake goes a long way towards enhancing shelf-life.

    Adding rum to the fruitcake continually over time is referred to as “feeding” the cake and some people do it on a weekly basis until the fruitcake is consumed. A lot of that probably has to do with your rum supply. If you’re not using any alcohol in your fruitcake you can skip the seasoning step, although you may not want to try to set any records for shelf-life.

Nutritional Value of Fruitcake as Survival Food

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We don’t often associate the word “nutrition” with “cake” but the word “fruit” starts to make some sense. In fact, the fruits traditionally baked into a fruit cake (raisins, Craisins, prunes, dried blueberries, dried cherries, currants, dried pineapple and dried banana) start to really add up on nutrient density, particularly in the category of vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants.

Add to that the types of nuts traditionally added (almonds, walnuts, pistachio nuts, peanuts) and the nutrition density increases as both a source of protein and healthy fats like Omega-3.

Spices are also a common addition to fruitcake including cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves. All of them have shown nutritional benefits and even medicinal benefits related to the glycemic index, anti-inflammatory properties, and the circulatory system.

Finally, there are the various flours you can add to a fruitcake that provide varying levels of amino acids and proteins like thiamin and niacin, plus the calorie boosts from sugar, maple syrup, molasses or the super-food sweetener—honey. We’ll even explore some high-protein flours in our recipes including almond flour and a pioneer favorite—acorn flour.

There are even arguments for the medicinal value of rum, although that may be outweighed by its preservative properties and overall taste enhancement. It should also be no surprise that fruitcake is an excellent source of dietary fiber considering all of the ingredients we’ve already identified.

Fruitcake Recipes

Our primary goal is to explore a fruitcake recipe as a long-term survival food. But before we get into the added complexity of that recipe, here’s the basic concept of fruitcake that’s a little bit simpler to make, although any fruitcake is a lot of work. It will still keep well but not as long as the survival recipe that follows.

Basic Fruitcake

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This is actually the simplest recipe and doesn’t require the steaming step we’ll explore in the next recipe. But even a simple fruitcake has a lot of ingredients.


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  • 1 cup of raisins
  • 1 cup of Craisins (dried cranberries)
  • ½ cup of dried blueberries
  • ½ cup dried apricots, chopped
  • ½ cup dried bananas, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon of ground ginger (can substitute 1 teaspoon of powdered ginger)
  • Zest of one orange
  • 1 cup of rum (can substitute brandy or whisky)
  • 1 cup of sugar (can substitute one cup of maple syrup or honey)
  • 1 ¼ sticks of butter
  • 1 cup of apple juice
  • ¼ teaspoon cloves
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 ¾ cups of all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 ½ teaspoons of salt
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup of pecans (can substitute any kind of nuts)
  • More brandy for basting after baking


  1. Combine dried fruits, ground ginger, and orange zest.
  2. Add rum and macerate (soak) overnight, or microwave for 5 minutes to re-hydrate fruit.
  3. Place fruit and liquid in a non-reactive pot with the sugar, butter, apple juice and spices.
  4. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring often, then reduce heat and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes.
  5. Remove from heat and cool for at least 15 minutes. (Batter can be completed up to this point, then covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days. Bring to room temperature before completing cake.)
  6. Heat oven to 325 degrees.
  7. Combine dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt) and sift into fruit mixture. Quickly bring batter together with a large wooden spoon, then stir in eggs one at a time until completely integrated, then fold in nuts.
  8. Spoon into a 10-inch non-stick loaf pan and bake for 1 hour.
  9. Check for doneness by inserting toothpick into the middle of the cake. If it comes out clean, it’s done. If not, bake another 10 minutes, and check again.
  10. Remove cake from oven and place on cooling rack or trivet. Baste or spritz top with brandy and allow to cool completely before turning out from pan.
  11. When cake is completely cooled, seal in a tight sealing, food safe container.
  12. Every 2 to 3 days, feel the cake and if it’s dry, spritz with brandy. The cake’s flavor will enhance considerably over the next two weeks.

And That Was the Easy Recipe…

Now let’s get down to brass tacks. If you want to make a fruitcake that lasts a long time you’re going to need to take a little time to make it. It’s not hard it just requires a bit of patience and the result will be well worth it.

The Ultimate Survival Fruitcake Recipe

(Makes 2 fruit cakes)

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  • 1 pound mixed dried fruit such as cherries, apricots, cranberries, dates, currants, pineapple, bananas, raisins, or prunes
  • 1 pound chopped nuts such as pecans, almonds, walnuts, pistachios, or peanuts, salted or unsalted
  • 1 pint bottle of rum, brandy, sherry,or whiskey. Any kind of alcohol will do in a pinch.
  • 1 cup of butter or lard (you can substitute any vegetable oil and add powdered butter to the oil if you have it on hand)
  • 3 cups of brown sugar (you can substitute white sugar, maple syrup, honey or molasses or combine them to total 3 cups if you’re short)
  • 2 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups of almond flour
  • 6 eggs (or substitute the powdered egg equivalent)
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder and baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg (if you’re short on any of these spices, youcan add an additional teaspoon of whatever you have on hand between the 4 spices listed above)
  • Zest from one orange
  • Zest from one lemon (If lacking a lemon or an orange, you can zest two of whichever fruit you have. If you don’t have any citrus fruit, just skip it.)
  • Juice from ½ orange
  • Juice from ½ lemon (Same substitution applies if you only have one juice on hand. If using bottled juice, measure out 2 tablespoons)


  1. Add the fruit, nuts, and alcohol to a large mixing bowl and toss to combine.
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  1. Cover with a tea towel and allow the mixture to soak overnight.
  2. In a separate mixing bowl, mix the butter and sugar together.
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  1. Combine with the rest of the ingredients (except the fruit and nut mixture) until a smooth, thick batter forms.
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  1. Carefully fold fruit and nut mixture into the batter.
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  1. Stir until it’s mixed well.
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  1. Grease the prepared baking pans.
  2. Cut some wax or parchment paper to fit the bottom of each pan.
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  1. Pour the batter into prepared pans about ¼ inch from the top. Fruitcakes rise very little during baking since there is no added yeast.
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  1. Cover and steam for 2.5 hours.
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If you don’t have a steamer, you can easily make a DIY version. Just place an upside-down bowl in the bottom of a deep stockpot.

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Next, place the unbaked fruitcake on top.

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Then, fill the pot with enough water to reach the bottom of the fruitcake pan.

Add water to the steamer as needed.

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As mentioned above, allow the cake to simmer inside the covered steamer for 2.5 hours. Now back to the main directions…

  1. Preheat oven to 300°F.
  2. After the cake has finished steaming, carefully remove the cake and bake in the preheated oven for one hour.
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  1. Remove the cake and allow it to rest covered on the counter for 12 hours.
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  1. After the fruitcakes have rested, wrap them tightly and securely in cheesecloth.
  2. Pour ¼ cup of rum onto the wrapped cake.

It’s important to “feed” the cake every week or two by brushing it with additional alcohol. This process not only helps to preserve your cake but keeps it nice and moist for years to come.

Fruitcake Pioneer Style

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It’s one thing to make a fruitcake in the comfort of a well-stocked kitchen, it’s something else altogether when ingredients are scarce or the cupboard doesn’t quite have all of the varied ingredients most fruitcake recipes require. This was a common dilemma for our pioneer ancestors.

At times like that, you have to improvise and you may be surprised how well you can substitute natural and foraged ingredients. It sure helps if you have some baking powder and baking soda on hand, but most of the other ingredients can be improvised or substituted with long-term food stores like powdered eggs, powdered butter, and vegetable oil.

Better yet, this recipe can be 100% gluten free. Flours like acorn flour, buckwheat flour, and almond flour have no gluten. That should have little or no adverse affect on the final fruitcake because it does not depend on yeast and flour gluten to rise and tends to be a very dense cake by its nature.

Wild Foraged Pioneer Fruitcake Recipe

This recipe uses a lot of foraged fruits that you’ll need to dry either in the sun or in a food dehydrator. Some of the ingredients can be also substituted with dehydrated survival foods like powdered eggs, powdered butter, and any vegetable oils you have on hand.

If you’re missing an ingredient with no substitute, just skip it. As long as you can bind the fruit with any kind of flour and enhance it with some sweetness, you’ll at least come close. Fruitcake is a very dense cake, and while the taste may not be in line with the traditional flavor profile of a traditional fruitcake recipe, it’s worth a try in an a difficult time.

As far as improvising alcohol is concerned, think in terms of hard cider or home brewed wine. In a pinch, apple cider or even wild grape juice or the juice of other wild fruits can do the trick. One thing to keep in mind is that without alcohol, you’re depending on the density of the cake and the low water activity of the dried fruits to fend off bacterial growth. Even then you may not get the shelf-life of the previous recipes.

If you want to bake it pioneer style you would use a wood stove or even bake it in a Dutch oven. We’re going to keep that step a little simple and just use a conventional oven. The final recipe is a hybrid of the first two we covered. It uses an ingredient list from the first basic recipe and the steaming/baking process of the second survival fruitcake recipe.


  • 4 cups of dried wild fruits. Consider drying cherries, blueberries, gooseberries, wild grapes, raspberries, wild strawberries, blackberries, or any fruits you have on hand. Mix and match and much as you can to total 4 cups, but dehydrate them first.
  • 2 cups of rum (can substitute hard cider, wine, or a non-alcohol option using apple cider or the juice of any other fruit)
  • 1 cup of sugar (substitute maple syrup, molasses, or honey)
  • 1 ¼ sticks of butter (You can substitute any vegetable oil, ideally blended with butter powder). In a pinch, try substituting lard, tallow, or poultry fat, but if using any animal fat, the shelf life is significantly reduced and should be kept cool.)
  • ¼ teaspoon cloves
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon of ground ginger (can substitute 1 teaspoon of powdered ginger)
  • 1 ¾ cups of all-purpose flour (or a blend of foraged flours including acorn flour, buckwheat flour, or any flour you improvise from foraged sources)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda (3 teaspoons of baking powder can substitute for 1 teaspoon of baking soda if you have none)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder (whipped egg whites are a substitute, assuming you have eggs)
  • 1 ½ teaspoons of salt (skip it if you don’t have any)
  • 2 eggs (powdered egg equivalent or traditional egg substitutes like a tablespoon of ground flax or chia seeds added to 1/3 cup of water or substitute 1/3 cup of apple sauce)
  • ½ cup of pecans (can substitute any kind of nuts)
  • More brandy (or whatever you have substituted for basting after baking)


Follow the same preparation and steaming/baking directions for the Survival Fruitcake recipe above.

Refrigerate or freeze to store and it may be best to abide by the USDA recommendation of a 3-month shelf life unless you’ve used an alcohol based ingredient to enhance and extend preservative qualities. In that case, you will have a much longer shelf life if it is packaged and stored properly.


Regardless of the recipes you pursue, you should be able to produce a fruitcake that not only tastes good but has varying degrees of shelf-life. Of the 3 recipes, the Survival Fruitcake recipe should give you the best result in terms of taste and long shelf-life.

Give it a try. There are numerous arguments for adding fruitcake to a survival larder. Maybe the best argument is that while man cannot live by bread alone, he just might make it if there’s fruitcake on the shelf in the pantry.

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