In Corsicana, "excellent fruitcake" is not an oxymoron.
By Gerald E. McLeod, Fri., Dec. 5, 2003
The Collin Street Bakery in Corsicana hits its stride by the middle of October and doesn't let up until almost Christmas. In the town southeast of Dallas, autumn means fruitcake season.
Since 1896, the bakery has been practicing an old German recipe for Christmas cake. Now the mail-order business ships the boxed, round tins protecting the cakes to 196 countries. The $35 million-a-year enterprise produces on average 20,000 of the cakes per day over a 90-day period, says Hayden Crawford, public relations manager for the bakery.
Not only are the doughnut-shaped cakes a Texas tradition, they are sought after by true fruitcake devotees. "We have as many loyal customers as the day is long," Crawford says with the exuberance of a salesman. "But the jokes have hurt our image."
People are still talking about the time Johnny Carson had a fruitcake brought onto his television show with a forklift, and the cake was so heavy it smashed his desk. "There are a lot of fruitcakes out there that you can make fun of," Crawford admits, "but we do them like your grandmother would make -- with lots of nuts and fresh ingredients." And you wouldn't make fun of your grandmother's cooking, would you?
Forget the humor about boat anchors and door stops when you're talking about Collin Street Bakery's Original Deluxe Fruitcake. The cellophane-wrapped cake is heavy, but it comes out of the tin moist and full of flavor. Gone are the unidentifiable green and yellow pieces of fruit. Gourmet food magazines have praised the Corsicana fruitcakes and Consumer Reports has listed it as the best in years past.
Crawford credits the freshness of the ingredients for the outstanding taste and texture of the fruitcakes. Flavorful native pecans -- the small ones that most commercial establishments ignore -- make up 27% of the cake by weight. Add to that Costa Rica pineapples and papayas, Washington state cherries, California white raisins, and locally produced sweet clover honey, and you have 80% of the ingredients. "Only 20 percent is the cake," Crawford says, "just enough to hold it all together."
In order to control costs and quality, the bakery has expanded into other businesses. The company now owns the largest pecan-shelling plant under one roof in the world. The papaya and pineapple used in the cakes are grown on company farms in Costa Rica. The pineapples are small and sweeter than those from Hawaii. Other Costa Rican products are imported under the name of Harvest Grove.
"The Cryer Creek Kitchens began as a sort of test kitchen for the bakery," Crawford says. When the bakery expanded its line of baked goods to pecan pies, cheesecakes, chocolate cakes, cookies, and other sweets, they used the name to keep Collin Street Bakery identifiable with its main product.
Gus Weidmann started the company with a family recipe he brought from Wiesbaden, Germany. He arrived in Corsicana soon after the largest oil field west of the Mississippi River began making a boomtown out of the sleepy little farming village. The bakery's main product was bread, and the fruitcakes were a holiday specialty until Tom McElwee came along to sell the cakes to the world.
McElwee turned the Original Deluxe into "the famous Corsicana, Texas Fruitcake" in just a few years. The famous and infamous stopped by the bakery to order a cake to be sent home and maybe spend the night in the first-class hotel that occupied the second floor of the bakery. The hotel was turned into offices, and the company is now owned by the third generation of the McNutt family.
Visiting the bakery at 401 W. Seventh in Corsicana is like visiting an Old World bakery with the glass cases full of delicacies and the sweet smell of baked goods filling the air. They still offer 10-cent coffee, and the cookies are as fresh as you can get anywhere. You wouldn't know it was a giant factory if there wasn't a window overlooking the production area. The bakeshop is open Monday through Saturday, 7am-5:30pm, and Sunday, noon-6pm. For more information or to place an order call 800/504-1896 or visit their Web site at www.collinstreet.com.
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