By Sarah Gove, Special to the News
Enjoying a sweet slice of fruitcake with a steaming cup of coffee is not a pleasure reserved only for the holiday season. In fact, some of Georgia Fruitcake Company’s loyal customers order cake all year ‘round. But, not all fruitcake lovers are as fanatical as Don Sherman.
The retired Navy man from Connecticut stocked up fruitcake he purchased at the commissary decades ago in his basement. While cleaning out the basement a few months ago, Sherman bravely popped open a can of his favorite snack, now more than 20 years old. “The Georgia fruitcake was the one that I liked … if I liked something, I tried to get as much as I could afford,” Sherman recalls. “But, I forgot about them (in the basement).”
To Sherman’s surprise and great delight, the 20-year-old fruitcake was still tasty!
“I brought them out, took one to my girlfriend and we opened it up,” he says. “It was a little browner than normal, but tasted pretty good.”
Sherman was so impressed he drove nearly 1,000 miles to visit the bakery in Claxton where the fruitcake was made all those years ago.
Sherman walked into John Womble’s bakery with that decades- old can and insisted they both enjoy a slice together.
“I said, ‘I’m from Connecticut and I love your fruitcake!’” Sherman said.
“A man is standing there with a can of fruitcake and says ‘I’ve got this fruitcake that’s 26 years old. I brought it to you!’” Womble says.
Sherman insisted they enjoy a slice together.
“I’m thinking why is he punishing me like this?” Womble recalls, laughing.
Womble is quick to tout the excellence of his company’s family recipe. Georgia Fruitcake takes pride in a consistent recipe — the only thing different in the cakes Womble makes now is the nut mixture — but even he was hesitant to sample such an old cake.
Still, exemplifying customer service at its best, Womble inspected the can, confirming by the batch number that the cake was indeed more than 20 years old, and then steeled himself to sample it.
Womble cautiously broke off a piece of the mahogany colored cake.
“Doggone it — it tasted like a fruitcake. I was amazed. There was no rancidity to it. The nuts were still like they’re supposed to be. Did not taste fermented. I don’t know what it’s done in there. It has a different texture, but it’s still moist,” Womble says.
Womble has taste-tested pounds of fruitcake in his years at the bakery, including a 10-year-old cake, but even that one wasn’t as tasty as Sherman’s cake.
Perhaps the way this cake was stored in that Connecticut basement preserved its flavor somehow, he ponders.
“It was probably down there next to a wooly mammoth or something. The ground does not thaw out down there,” Womble jokes.
Sherman now tells all his friends about Georgia fruitcake and makes sure never to run out. He left the bakery that day with a free cake to replace the one he brought in and 10 more he bought to ‘stock up.’ Womble recalls that day fondly, with a chuckle.
“It makes you feel good to know I made that cake,” he says. “I would eat another piece of that and it wouldn’t bother me at all.”