Saturday, September 17, 2011

Making the South Flavorful Throughout the Year

Looking for a flavorful treat that has excellent regional flavors and connections? Although the pecan pie is an excellent Southern desert, particularly during the fall, many homes entertain guests with a “nutty” fruitcake at the end of the year, especially at Christmas. No fruitcake in the United States has gained more attention that the one made in central North Carolina by the Scott family at its Southern Supreme business.

Although begun very humbly in 1985 in the Scotts’ garage, Southern Supreme has become an international gourmet food company. As a result, it has expanded into a modern building with four kitchens and a retail sales room. Sales have grown to more than 200,000 pounds of fruitcake annually. However, the business still retains its family-oriented practices that emphasize quality and value. (Its emphasis on customer service is best illustrated by its record with Better Business Bureau, which gives its highest rating of A+ to Southern Supreme and has no complaints to report.)

Bear Creek, an unincorporated community (zip code 27207) where Southern Supreme is located, is just as traditionally Southern as its products. With only 4,100 residents in 1,625 households in 81 square miles (a population density of 51 people per square mile), neighbors don’t see each other too frequently, except at church -- or at Southern Supreme when they work there part-time. Several dozen residents are hired near the end of the year to meet the seasonal demand for fruitcakes and other specialties. In fact, family members of several students in my college classes have worked part-time there.

For more than 25 years, Southern Supreme has sold its fruitcake and other specialties by mail order as well as from the retail store in the farmland of southwestern Chatham County. Before October, Southern Supreme operates primarily as a mail order business, although the retail store remains open year round.

When is the best time to visit? For most it is mid-October when the Scotts have their annual open house. Despite the isolated location of its retail store, more than 10,000 people visit during the four-day event that starts usually on the second Thursday. After the open house, the store remains a fashionable destination and is so popular that some cities and counties, such as Carrboro Recreation and Parks and Fayetteville-Cumberland Parks and Recreation, offer tours before Christmas.

Although I’ve been to an open house, I dropped in on a rainy Saturday a month early when the store was uncrowded and I didn’t have to stand in line to sample the goodies. I enjoyed being able to taste samples at my leisure, linger at the photo display of days ago and read more information about fruitcakes and Southern Supreme than the average person should know:

  • 2,100 calories in one pound of fruitcake

  • 21 servings in one pound of fruitcake

  • 1,800 eggs cracked in a day

  • 2,800 pounds of fruitcake made in a day

  • 8 Scott family members who own and operate the shop

  • 100 employees during peak season

  • 2,400 packages sent out on the first day of a week

However, I missed seeing the store decorated in its finest holiday attire as it is for the open house and I wasn’t able to view cooking stations that are set up to show how cookies, cakes, and other goodies are created. In addition, I missed the picturesque foliage in October when many visitors select the Devil’s Stomping Ground Scenic Byway (NC 902) to travel to Bear Creek from Pittsboro, the county seat to the northeast, or the small towns of Seagrove and Robbins to the southwest. To enjoy the seasonal experience, I might have to return during an open house and be part of the excitement with the crowd again.

Southern Supreme takes advantage of being in the South to use ingredients with wonderful flavors connected to Southern culture in not only fruitcakes but other favorites as well:

  • Fruitcakes with regional fruits and native pecans are especially Southern (although fruitcakes are as old as the Romans). Fruitcakes date to the colonial period when European settlers brought traditions of having made them in their home countries.

  • Nut specialties feature regional favorites, such as the pecan that is native to the American South and the peanut that has a long tradition in the South. Both are featured prominently in nut boxes, bags, and candies.

  • Jams, jellies, and marmalades are also beloved Southern choices, particularly those made with strawberries, blackberries and peaches grown in the South.

  • Relishes made using old family recipes depend on garden tomatoes and bell peppers of the South that have been enhanced with mixed spices.

Although fruitcake will always be its claim to fame, Southern Supreme has many regional delights than Southerners enjoy. Rather than struggle with an Internet search for find something generic for the holidays, take a fall trip to Bear Creek where the Scotts’ store still beckons to past guests as well as first-time visitors. The Southern connections to traditional flavors are appreciated not only at the end of the year but also throughout the year.

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