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
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
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
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
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.