Jokes aside, Claxton proud to call itself fruitcake capital.
|By Russ Bynum
CLAXTON — The jokes don’t offend John Womble. He even collects them, such as a gag Christmas card labeled ”Attack of the Killer Fruitcake.”
”I think about this every time I make a cake. I make sure you’re never going to knock off on my cake,” says Womble, the third-generation operator of the Georgia Fruit Cake Company.
While many deride the holiday dessert as an inedible doorstop, Claxton has long embraced fruitcake as its claim to fame. City-limit signs and a 50-foot water tower carry the slogan ”Fruitcake Capital of the World.”
Joking aside, the dense mixture of poundcake, nuts and translucent candied fruit has enough fans to support two fruitcake bakeries in this south Georgia city of 2,200, located 45 miles west of Savannah.
The Wombles’ bakery makes several hundred-thousand pounds, mostly for sale to military bases.
That makes Claxton a legitimate contender for its self-proclaimed ”fruitcake capital” title. Its main rival is Corsicana, Texas — where the Collin Street Bakery cranks out about 4.5 million pounds of fruitcake annually.
”It means a lot to us to have something that we can hang our hat on,” says Perry DeLoach, Claxton’s mayor of 32 years. ”It may have never brought us an industry, but it has brought an awful lot of people to Claxton. They’ll always stop in Claxton and buy fruitcake.”
Different families own Claxton’s two bakeries, but both owe their recipes to the man who introduced fruitcake to the area.
Italian immigrant Savino Tos opened the Claxton Bakery in 1910, selling fresh bread, pastries and homemade ice cream. During the holidays, Tos also baked fruitcakes.
It was Tos’ two young apprentices who would stake their businesses on fruitcake and market it around the world.
Ira Womble and Albert Parker both started working for Tos at young ages — 10 and 11, respectively. Womble left in the 1920s to manage a federal bakery in Iowa, while Parker remained and took over the Claxton Bakery when Tos retired in 1945.
When grocery stores began stocking fresh bread and other baked goods after World War II, Parker decided to specialize in fruitcake and market it far beyond Claxton. He produced 45,000 pounds of fruitcake in his first year.
Ira Womble returned to south Georgia in the 1940s, opening a bakery with help from automobile tycoon Henry Ford, who wanted Womble to experiment baking with soy products. In 1948, Womble moved back to Claxton and opened the Georgia Fruitcake Company.
It was his son, Ira Womble Jr., who landed the bakery its first military contracts — for 116,000 pounds of fruitcake — when he entered the family business in 1954. Ira Jr. and John Womble now run the bakery.
Still, both families are mindful of being the butt of so many holiday jokes, such as Johnny Carson’s well-know crack that there’s only one fruitcake that gets passed around year after year.
Womble wonders if the yuks will hurt fruitcake’s future. Most of his walk-in customers are in their 50s or older, and he wonders if younger generations have been biased by fruitcake bashing.
”People from their 40s down have been influenced mainly by television and radio jokes about fruitcake, and they haven’t tried it because they think it’s bad,” Womble says. ”That’s the reason I don’t run from jokes about fruitcake. I’ve changed many people’s minds.”
What about fruitcake’s infamous lifespan? Can it really reach antiquity and still be edible?
Left out on the kitchen counter, fruitcakes will last about four months, after which the nuts go bad. But stored in the refrigerator — not frozen — ”they’re good pretty much indefinitely.”
In south Georgia, even fruitcake haters show some deference to Claxton.
Last year, a Savannah radio station held a contest to drop, toss and catapult unwanted fruitcakes to see which made the best splatter. But contest rules prohibited destruction of Claxton fruitcakes.
That thought gets a smile from Womble, who blames substandard fruitcakes for tarnishing the dessert’s reputation.
”We’ve got too many people who are hungry to throw food away,” he says. ”Of course, some of those cakes deserve to be thrown. Twice.”
Published in the Athens Banner-Herald on Sunday, December 16, 2001.
Thanks to Richard for this idea and to Mr. Russ Bynum for the great article above. (Credit where credit is due.)
Another interesting piece of Claxton culture!
The Rattlesnake Roundup is a collection and milking event. The snakes are not eaten or otherwise harmed at this event. Rattlesnake venom is highly valued for research, and a small amount is used for the manufacture of snake bite anti-venom.
RATTLESNAKE ROUNDUP CLAXTON, GA
THESE PICS ARE FROM SIDETRACKERS.COM. GO THERE TO SEE MORE.
OH YEAH! RICHARD, PACK UP THE CAR, THE CAMERAS, AND RUN A PQ. WE GOTTA DO A RUN TO CLAXTON, GA COME RATTLESNAKE ROUNDUP TIME.