Berta Scott reaps the fruits of her labor
Out in the middle of nowhere in a little town called Bear Creek, about 15 miles or so from Siler City, sits the Southern Supreme Fruitcake factory. In the parking lot the only sound to be heard is the gentle breeze blowing through the brown leaves in the maple and oak treetops.
Inside the factory the spirit of Christmas is alive and well. Smells of candies, cinnamon and apple cider fill the air as customers bustle around the gift shop picking out their favorite treats. On a counter adjacent to the shop people are lining up to sample nuts, jellies and fruitcake and wash them down with hot coffee and apple cider.
In the back, bakers clad in white uniforms and caps busily bake, press and box fruitcake, and cover nuts with a thick chocolate coating. As a stocker takes the goodies back up front and fills the emptying shelves, customers come by pulling them off almost as fast as he loads them.
Owner Berta Scott worked out of her garage as a hairdresser in the early ’80s and made fruitcakes seasonally for her customers. But when her husband Hoyt’s custom-made woodstoves business began to wane Berta decided to sell some of her fruitcakes to make ends meet, and what started as a simple way to make up for lost cash has now turned into a fruitcake empire.
That first year, using an old pizza oven out of her daughter’s garage, Berta sold 2,000 pounds of fruitcake.
‘“[We were] in the garage for the first five years,’” she says. ‘“We’d sell them off the kitchen table.’”
Now she makes that amount in one day.
‘“I’ve forgot how many times we’ve added on,’” she says of the factory. ‘“Six or seven at least.’”
Fruitcakes have gotten a bad rap over the years. They’ve been used as doorstops, bricks, weapons’… you name it.
‘“You got to train people to like fruitcake,’” Berta says. She leaves out all the gummy ingredients nobody likes and replaces them with pecans, walnuts, dates, pineapple and cherries. The batter is stirred the whole time it’s cooked, and after pressing the cakes into rectangles or circles they are glazed and topped with candied fruit. The result is a moist, nutty fruitcake unlike those dreaded Christmas gifts of old. But it doesn’t take much training, just one bite and the word ‘fruitcake’ takes on a whole new, much happier image.
Berta’s cakes have been changing people’s minds for over 20 years now and a bulletin board in the tasting area overflowing with photos and letters from satisfied customers all over the country proves it. One meaningful letter is from a woman whose father served in Operation Desert Storm in Iraq. A fellow soldier had obtained a fruitcake by mail and the two comrades hid it from the others and shared it together, savoring each bite during the Christmas season in the desert. The two vowed to share another once they made it back to the states, but upon arrival the woman’s father didn’t know the brand and couldn’t locate that same delicious, moist fruitcake that had made their Christmas more meaningful.
After several years of buying fruitcakes and trying them with no luck, the man, unbeknownst to his daughter, took a bite of a Southern Supreme cake bought by the family. She says tears began to flow down his cheeks ‘— this had been the one he’d been looking for ‘— and he told her the story of that Christmas in Iraq. The woman was writing the Scotts to let them know how much they meant to their family and the impact they had on her father during a tough Christmas at war.
Berta has expanded her business to include chocolates and candy-covered nuts, fresh jams and jellies, cheese florets, cookies, tea biscuits and apple cider mix. She employs around a hundred people during the holiday seasons to help with the demand. Online orders that are shipped daily also keep the Scotts hopping.
In her office Berta takes a look around. ‘“It’s funny we can’t see into the future,’” she says. For in the very spot where her famous factory now sits is what used to be a cow pasture where she waited for the school bus. Across the road is her home where she lives with her husband ‘— the two married before they even graduated from high school.
Hoyt gets up from his chair in Berta’s office. ‘“I think I’m going to the house and climb my tree. Might find me a deer out there.’”
To comment on this story, e-mail Lee Adams at firstname.lastname@example.org.