The world may know about Eilenberger's Bakery in Palestine because of its holiday fruitcakes, but locals know it's a year-round bake shop.
Although the bakery ships a couple of dozen cakes and confections internationally, there are more delectables that can be purchased only at the bakery.
"We have a customer from Houston who always stops in to buy a dozen gooey bars," bakery spokeswoman Sarah Pryor said. "If he can't make it by, then he'll send someone."
The bakery offers a long list of breads, pastries, pies and cakes in the retail shop in the red-brick cookie factory on the edge of downtown.
"We don't ship the cookies, cupcakes and pies because we can't be sure that they'll get to their destination in good shape," Pryor said. You'll have to visit the bakery as folks have for more than 100 years.
At age 4, F.H. Eilenberger and his parents immigrated to America from Germany. After working in Fort Worth and Galveston bakeries, he opened his business in Palestine in 1898 at the age of 21. At the time, the county seat of Anderson County was booming as a major stopping point for the railroad.
Before he died in 1959, F.H. Eilenberger sold the business to his two sons and son-in-law.
Current proprietors Terresa and Stephen Smith are at least the fifth owners, but many of the recipes still in use were brought by the Eilenberger family from the homeland.
The bakery's No. 1 seller is the moist, chewy Texas Pecan Cake. It's chock-full of dates, pineapple, cherries and, of course, pecans, in a honey batter.
The bakery makes more than 21,000 fruitcakes during the holiday season, Pryor said. Leading up to Christmas, the shop will ship 5,000 to 7,000 cakes a day. "If we can get it through customs, we can ship it," Pryor said. South American and Korean addresses are particularly difficult. The bakery ships a lot to military personnel.
The company might print 300,000 catalogs and advertise in magazines around the country, but hometown folks are the lifeblood of the bakery.
"We understand that the large chain stores can sell a lot cheaper than we can," Pryor said. "We're here for the special occasions." In a four-county region, an Eilenberger cake is the first choice for birthdays, graduations and weddings. The old German bakery wins the "best bakery" award in the local newspaper year after year, Pryor said.
"Word-of-mouth has always been a friend," she said. Cross-country travelers have been known to make a side trip to pick up a dozen cookies or a pecan pie for the road.
In addition to baked goods, the shop also serves sandwiches on gourmet breads.
Eilenberger Bakery is at 512 N. John St., four blocks off U.S. 287. The retail outlet is open 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays.
Visitors can tour the plant during business hours except August through January. "Come on in for lunch, and let us show you around," Pryor said. For information, call 903-729-2253 or go to www.eilenbergerbakery.com.
Palestine is also the western terminus of the Texas State Railroad. The steam-driven excursion train runs the 50-mile round-trip through the Piney Woods on weekends March through August. For information, call 903-683-2561 or go to www.texasstaterailroad.com.
• Gerald E. McLeod's Day Trips, Vol. 2 is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, P.O. Box 33284, South Austin, Texas 78704.