History in the Baking

History in the Baking

The sweet reason why Claxton, Georgia, is known as the fruitcake capital of the world

Words by Paige Townley

Photos courtesy of Clayton Bakery

When it comes to fruitcake, there are usually two camps: those who love it, and those who don’t. Thankfully, one small-town bakery in Claxton, Georgia, falls into the first and works year-round to keep the fruit-forward dessert in the hands of its fans—no holiday required.

“By the end of this year, we will have made about four and a half to five million pounds of fruitcake,” explains Dale Parker, one of the owners of Claxton Bakery.

The family-owned bakery ships fruitcake all over the United States, as well as into Canada and even across the pond, both straight to retailers and to individuals who have ordered directly through the website.

“You can differentiate us from other brands because of the abundance of fruits and nuts in our cake,” explains Dale. “An off-brand fruit cake you’ll find at the supermarket is basically just a pound cake with a few fruits and nuts sprinkled on top. A Claxton fruitcake is more than 70 percent choice fruits and nuts by weight, and they are in the cake.”

The bakery prides itself on both the quality it is known for and its history in baking the traditional treat, which dates back to the early 1900s. The original bakery owner, Savino Tos, immigrated from Italy to the United States, first living in New York City before migrating to Georgia and opening the bakery in 1910. Dale’s father, Albert, started working at the bakery in 1927 when he was just 11 years old. “Those were difficult times in the country—just before the Depression in 1929, and a lot of kids worked to help their families then,” Dale says. “He worked before school and after, and he really made himself a fixture at the shop.”

He became such a fixture at the shop that when the owner decided it was time to sell the business in 1945, he sold it to Albert. At that time though, the small-town bakery was beginning to disappear as supermarkets were coming onto the scene, so Albert decided to make a big change: he decided to specialize in one thing. “He chose fruitcakes of all things,” Dale says.

“They were very popular during the holiday season, and a lot of local folks seemed to like it, so he started making them in large quantities.”

Albert also got involved with a variety of organizations around the country to use his fruitcakes for fundraising—a new concept at the time—which helped spread the word about Claxton fruitcakes. “My dad never had an aggressive advertising campaign,” Dale adds. “He was always satisfied with letting the product spread itself by word of mouth.”

Word of mouth spread further when the family took their fruitcake to the New York World’s Fair in 1964 and 1965. And for good reason: a Claxton fruit cake never compromised on quality and was consistent from one year to the next. “Dad always placed product quality at the top, wanting the fruit cake to be the very best we could make it, regardless of the cost,” Dale says. “If the ingredient prices were higher, we just had to pay more for them. There’s never a compromise on the quality.”

Those ingredients include a select list of fruits and nuts, including Georgia pecans, California almonds, walnuts, and raisins, and various other fruits imported from Spain and India. All of the needed items ship to the Claxton Bakery’s plant, which covers almost an entire city block in a city that has a population of less than 5,000. “When we’re making this much product, we have to bring in a lot of fruits, nuts, and packaging material,” Dale explains. “We don’t really store any fruitcakes though. We make and ship out fresh.”

The bakery bakes and ships out fruitcakes all year long, but the fall is the family’s busiest season. The busy baking season typically kicks off in mid-August and lasts until early December, with most of those fruitcakes shipping out to supermarkets and various retailers across the country for store shelves during the holiday season. “During this time we produce about seventy to eighty thousand pounds of fruitcake per day,” Dale says.

Most of those orders are of the bakery’s original recipe, though Claxton does offer a dark recipe that features a spicier cake, dark natural raisins, spices, and molasses. Claxton Bakery has also added another product to its offerings: Clax Snax, which is individually-wrapped slices of its fruitcake. Even with the new product added to the mix, tradition continues on at Claxton Bakery, and the family wouldn’t have it any other way. “Dad instilled a work ethic in us to serve the customer and give them the very best product and service you can,” Dale says. “We’ve been baking our fruitcakes for 113 years now, and we take a great deal of pride in the tradition of quality.”