When I think of Georgia I think about food–fresh orchard peaches, the buffet at Paula Dean’s Lady and Sons in Savannah, the Master’s signature pimento cheese sandwich in Augusta, Vidalia’s onions and fruitcake, the specialty of Claxton, Georgia. That’s right, fruitcake. I’m one of those people who never refuse a fruitcake, especially those made with a recipe that doesn’t skimp on the fruit and nuts and is hopefully soaked with whiskey or rum.
To find such cakes I go to Claxton, Georgia, which claims to be the fruitcake capital of the world. Ok, Corsicana, Texas, home of Collin Street Bakery makes the same claim. Granted, Corsicana makes a great cake, too. However, I have to give the crown to Claxton because for over a century Claxton’s two bakeries – The Georgia Fruitcake Company and the Claxton Fruitcake Company – has baked more than five million pounds of fruitcake annually.
Both bakeries are located in downtown Claxton just a few blocks apart. They both share beginnings that began with an Italian baker Savino Gillio-Tos who founded the Claxton Bakery. Georgia Fruitcake Company founder Ira Womble, apprenticed under Gillio-Tos, who broke away to open his own shop, The Womble Bakery. Today, The Georgia Fruitcake Company’s downtown bakeshop still operates a traditional bakery on Duval Street selling variety of baked goods along with two fruitcake styles. Their traditional Georgia Fruitcake and the bourbon laced Womble’s Fruitcake. Both are available via mail order but not online, the website (www.georgiafruitcakecompany.com) only provides a link for contact phone numbers.
Cakes from the Claxton Fruitcake Bakery may well have been the first fruitcake you tasted since millions were sold each year as a fundraiser for non-profit organizations since the 1950s. I sold cases of Claxton one-pound fruitcake bars myself, the ways and means project to fund my Job Daughters chapter. It was a sweet memory for me when I saw the one-pound bar fruitcakes stacked on the shelves in Claxton’s gift shop after a tour of the bakery. Sharing shelf space with the boxed bars were individually wrapped fruitcake slices and chocolate covered fruitcake nuggets.
The Claxton Fruitcake Company (www.claxtonfruitcake.com) has an impressive online shop and features another famous Georgian food, pecans, sold plain, glazed, sugared encrusted (praline) or chocolate dipped. Yep, chocolate dipped. Hopefully, giving fruitcake haters a valid reason to give fruitcake another try. After all, chocolate makes almost anything better. – by Suzanne Corbett, RFT Food History Editor