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Texas | Columns | "Texas Tales"

Fruitcake

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox
Long, long ago when people actually went to downtown department stores to buy their holidays gifts as opposed to doing all their shopping on their cell phone, a Texas company founded in 1896 actually depended on mail delivery for a thick slice of its annual revenue.

And, with the exception of several company-owned retail outlets, their old business model is still working. One of roughly the roughly 1.5 million units this company will sell this year, the Texas-themed decorated tin containing the two-pound Deluxe fruitcake I ordered from Corsicana's famous Collin Street Bakery is scheduled to arrive this week. Each year, I generally vow that I've got to stop eating fruitcake (and anything else that I shouldn't), and each year, especially during the holidays, I usually give in.

The more Christmases you can remember, the less likely you are to be surprised about various aspects of life, but I have yet to figure out why so many people say they don't like fruitcake. The only two reasons I can come up with are 1) it's perceived as cool to say negative things about fruitcake and 2) people who carp about how awful fruitcake is obviously have never had a really good piece of fruitcake.

My taste for this holiday delicacy is a fruitcake-like mixture of interesting Texas history and pleasant family memories. The history dates to the late 19th century, when German-born August Weidmann partnered with Thomas McElwee to start a bakery in Corsicana. The same year they began business, Weidmann began making fruitcakes. The bakery changed hands in 1946 and really began to focus on mail-order sales, but the company is still family owned and the recipe essentially the same.

I discovered this Texas-made delicacy in the early 1960s. My granddad was a former newspaper editor who eventually moved into Chamber of Commerce work and other forms of public relations. He'd been writing magazine articles on the side for decades. When I was young, he often took me on trips related to his work. That's what brought me to Corsicana for the first time. Granddad had an assignment from the old Texas Parade Magazine to do an article on the Collin Street Bakery and its noted fruitcakes.

I was already interested in Texas history and beginning to think about following in Granddad's footsteps as a writer, but the sixth-grade me was even more enthusiastic about cookies and cakes. We were headed to Lake of the Pines in East Texas to go fishing (another magazine assignment), but I certainly had no objection to stopping at a bakery.

At their busy plant, a manager or perhaps one of the owners, briefed Granddad on the company's history and growth. They had clients all over the world, including royalty. Of greatest interest to me was a tour of their operation which of course concluded with complimentary samples. I think that was the first time I ever ate a piece of fruitcake. And I liked it.

Back in Austin, I returned to school and Granddad wrote his article. I doubt if I read the piece when it came out, but thanks to good PR on the part of Collin Street, I never got a chance to forget their fruitcake. That's because for years after that story appeared, every fall Granddad received a complimentary Deluxe fruitcake in appreciation for the publicity he had provided the company.

Of course, this was way before the invention of journalistic ethics. Today, I'm sure, any reporter or editor receiving a free fruitcake would be insulted at such a presumption of their lack of integrity and immediately return it to the sender or donate it to some worthy charity. But my Granddad, and most old-time news people, had their own sense of right and wrong. He would have done his story, and said the same things-good or bad-free fruitcake or no free fruitcake.

While the need for journalistic propriety is clear enough, especially today, one thing I have never understood is how fruitcake became a holiday joke. Now, and for a good while, it has been popular to make fun of fruitcakes. There's even a website featuring fruitcake jokes, including a list of 10 things you can do with a fruitcake. None of those things involve eating one.

Surely he was just reading one of his gag writer's lines, but late night comedian Johnny Carson really turned up the heat of the figurative anti-fruitcake oven when he pronounced: "The worst gift is a fruitcake. There is only one fruitcake in the entire world, and people keep sending it to each other."

I'm here to stipulate that the fruitcake Granddad received each year, and shared with his appreciative family, did not last long enough to be re-gifted. As far as I'm concerned, anyone who doesn't like fruitcake, especially fruitcakes baked in Navarro County is, well, nuttier than a fruitcake.
Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" December 19, 2018

Mike Cox's "Texas Tales" :

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  • Related Topics:
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    Mike Cox's "Texas Tales" :

  • Wyatt Brothers 12-12-18
  • Time 12-5-18
  • Texas Speak 11-28-18
  • The Missing Cornerstone 11-20-18
  • The Lost Llano Lead Mine 11-14-18

    See more »



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