Eilenberger's Bakery, in Palestine, may be best known around the world for its holiday fruitcakes, but locals know it as a year-round bakeshop
Eilenberger's Bakery, in Palestine, may be best known around the world for its holiday fruitcakes, but locals know it as a year-round bakeshop. Although the bakery has a couple dozen cakes and confections it ships internationally, there are a lot more delectables on the menu that can only be purchased at the bakery.
"We have a customer from Houston who always stops in to buy a dozen gooey bars," says Sarah Pryor, spokeswoman for the bakery. "If he can't make it by, then he'll send someone."
Besides cakes, the bakery offers a long list of breads, pastries, pies, and cakes in the retail shop in the redbrick cookie factory on the edge of downtown. "We don't ship the cookies, cupcakes, and pies," Pryor says, "because we can't be sure that they'll get to their destination in good shape." You'll just have to stop by the bakery like folks have been doing for more than 100 years.
F.H. Eilenberger immigrated to America with his parents at the age of 4 from Germany. After working in bakeries in Fort Worth and Galveston, he opened his own business in Palestine in 1898 at the age of 21. At the time, the county seat of Anderson County was becoming a major stopping point for the railroad.
Despite a fire in 1918 that destroyed the original building, Eilenberger's is credited with being the oldest bakery in Texas at the same location. Before he died in 1959, F.H. sold the business to his two sons and son-in-law. Terresa and Stephen Smith are at least the fifth owners. "This is not an industrial bakery," Pryor says. "It takes a lot of hands-on attention by the owners to be sure the recipes are followed exactly."
Many of the recipes that the modern Eilenberger's Bakery uses were brought by family from the homeland. Eilenberger's fruitcake recipe is said to have been in the family for generations. The bakery's No. 1 seller is the Texas Pecan Cake chock-full of pecans, dates, pineapple, and cherries in an East Texas honey batter. It is so moist and chewy that you'll never mistake it for a doorstop.
The bakery makes more than 21,000 fruitcakes during the holiday season, Pryor says. During the weeks leading up to Christmas, they will ship 5,000 to 7,000 cakes a day. The company ships so much that UPS has given them their own station. "If we can get it through customs, we can ship it," she says. South American and Korean addresses are particularly difficult: The bakery ships a lot to military personnel.
The company might print 300,000 catalogs and advertise in magazines around the country, but it is the hometown folks who top the list of customers. "We understand that the large chain stores can sell a lot cheaper than we can," Pryor says. "We're here for the special occasions." In a four-county region, an Eilenberger cake is the first choice for birthdays, graduations, and weddings. The old German bakery garners the "best bakery" award in the local newspaper year after year, she says.
"Word of mouth has always been a friend of ours," Pryor says with a laugh. Cross-country travelers have been known to make a side trip to the historic icon in Palestine to pick up a dozen cookies or a pecan pie for the road.
In addition to the baked goods, the bakeshop also serves sandwiches made on their gourmet breads. The chicken-salad sandwich has been overlooked among the awards the bakery has received.
Eilenberger Bakery is at 512 N. John St., four blocks off U.S. 287. The retail outlet opens Monday through Friday, 7:30am to 5:30pm, and Saturday, 8am to 4pm. Pryor will take visitors on a tour of the plant any time during business hours except August through January. "Come on in for lunch, and let us show you around," Pryor invites. For information, call 903/729-2253 or go to www.eilenbergerbakery.com.
Palestine is the western terminus of the Texas State Railroad. The steam-driven excursion train runs the 50-mile round-trip through the Piney Woods on weekends March through August. For information, call 903/683-2561 or go to www.texasstaterailroad.com.
834th in a series. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of "Day Trips" 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.