Maxine Smelts recalls with fondness the origins of the fruitcake recipe that has been the pillar of her home-based bakery's success.
"It was handed down from a good friend of mine when I got married in 1974," recalls Smelts, who owns Country Classic Fruit Cakes on Powell Road. "I've always loved fruitcake and I just absolutely loved this recipe."
Smelts said she made the cake each year during the holidays, and a friend suggested in the early 1990s that she could make money by selling the cakes.
"It got to be so many customers just from word of mouth," said Smelts, adding that her business venture soon outgrew her kitchen. "My husband said, 'Let's see if we can make this into a business.' "
Jerry Smelts built a small kitchen, equipped with two ovens and deep sinks, onto the family's home.
On a typical day, Smelts will bake 20 pounds of fruitcake. Some of the pecan and fruit concoction is made into small loaves, while the rest is made into morsels. Smelts sells her fruitcake in four varieties -- a 14-ounce gift box, a two-pound loaf, plain morsels and chocolate-dipped morsels -- with prices ranging from $8 to $16.
"My daughter-in-law loves chocolate and she said, 'Why don't you take the morsels and dip them into chocolate?' " Smelts said. Today, the chocolate-dipped morsels are a favorite among her customers.
All of Smelts' fruitcakes are packaged for gift-giving in a bright red box, shrink-wrapped and topped with a gold seal and bow.
"In the years before Jerry built the bakery, I would wrap the loaves and gift box pieces in heavy plastic wrap," said Smelts. "When we finished building the bakery, I started thinking about how I wanted to package the cakes. I said, 'How would I want it packaged if I were the one buying?' "
The one-woman Country Classic Fruit Cakes bakery produced nearly 300 pounds of fruitcakes last year. Each batch takes approximately four hours to mix, bake and package. Because the business is so time-consuming, Smelts bakes only during the holidays. She opens her kitchen in October and shuts down Jan. 1.
"I have some customers who will buy enough now to last them until next October," said Smelts. "They freeze it and ration it throughout the year."
The woman who supplied Smelts with the original recipe died before Smelts made her bakery a success. But Smelts said she knows that her friend would be proud of what she has accomplished.
"She'd be just as proud as my mother," Smelts said.
Individuals interested in ordering Smelts' fruitcakes can call her at (706) 868-6715 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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