It all started with a question: “Would you like to try some fruitcake?” The answer was, overwhelmingly, no. But if Berta Lou Scott managed to get someone to sample her
The answer was, overwhelmingly, no. But if Berta Lou Scott managed to get someone to sample her fruitcake, they almost always came back to buy one. So she kept asking the question.
She asked in Raleigh and Charlotte, Fayetteville and Greensboro. She and her late husband, Hoyt, and any family members and friends they could coax into accompanying them to Christmas shows in the region, repeatedly offered Scott’s signature sweet to strangers. She believed, without a doubt, that the more people who tried her unique recipe for fruitcake, the more people who would buy one.
Scott was fighting an uphill battle of people’s palates having been scarred by memories of dry hunks of cake pushed upon them at holiday functions. But she was determined. For hours, she stood behind her show booth — a cabin-inspired structure complete with a front porch and railings — and asked the question, obliged dissenters, and happily passed out samples to anyone who would take one. And she sold cakes. She sold so many fruitcakes at her first show in 1985 that her family had to bake more at home and drive them to Raleigh to make it through the event.
After those first few years, people began saying yes to Berta Lou Scott’s fruitcakes. Thirty-eight years later, Scott and her family run Southern Supreme Fruitcake & More in Bear Creek. They ship “old-fashioned nutty fruitcakes” in their shiny gold boxes and festive tins all over the world. Those Southern Supreme fruitcakes are now the centerpiece of many families’ Christmas traditions. But more important, after nearly 40 years in the fruitcake business, the Scott family remains at the center of Southern Supreme.
On a humid July weekday, the Scott family sits around a table in the Southern Supreme warehouse. A blue checkered tablecloth and padded card-table chairs make this feel more like a living room social than a business meeting. But that’s the Scott family way. On this morning, several of Berta Lou Scott’s children and their spouses take a break from their respective responsibilities readying for Christmas to share stories of the past four decades.
They tell about those early days, when Berta Lou, Hoyt, and their friends and neighbors drove to Charlotte 11 days in a row for the Southern Christmas Show. They left their Chatham County homes at 6 a.m. and returned at midnight.
Belinda Scott Jordan, the oldest of the four Scott children, tells about her grandmother Nannie standing at the ironing board, sealing cellophane packaging with a household iron.
“I can still see Grandma doing that,” she says.
When the fruitcake operation outgrew the Scotts’ brick ranch home, Berta Lou decided that they needed a production kitchen and showroom across the road. That idea set in motion a building boom that started with moving Hoyt’s cow pasture fence for the first structure in 1990 and continued with new buildings in ’93, ’96, ’99, two in 2002, another in ’06, and the final one in 2016. The current 40,000-square-foot structure contains five kitchens, each with its own purpose: one for chocolate, one for nuts, one for candy, one for cookies, and, of course, one for fruitcake.
Randy Scott, the youngest of the Scott children, navigates the labyrinth of rooms, many of which he helped build. He points out each kitchen, as well as the batching room, packaging room, basket room, and shipping room. In the break room, he gestures toward large windows, through which cows graze lazily in the pasture.
“We have the best break room view anywhere,” he says.
Before Berta Lou Scott ran Southern Supreme, she was a hairdresser. Around Christmastime, she made fruitcakes for her customers. What these customers didn’t know is that they were the first taste-testers for Southern Supreme’s signature dessert. Over the years, Scott tweaked her recipe based upon customer feedback. She eliminated citron, other spices, and excess fruit. And she added more and more nuts. Today, a 300-pound batch of fruitcake has 95 pounds of pecans and walnuts. Southern Supreme fruitcakes also stay moist six months after purchasing.
“The recipe has stayed almost the same,” Randy says. “The way we do it has changed, and the volume has changed. But as far as the recipe and end result, it has stayed the same.”
Inside the fruitcake kitchen, large, industrial mixers with heavy-duty arms stir the sticky batter of margarine, sugar, eggs, flour, raisins, dates, pineapple, cherries, pecans, and walnuts. The batter is poured out into large sheet pans that go into a pre-World War II bagel oven. Each rack holds five pans, and the racks rotate as they cook. Occasionally, the oven door opens, and the fruitcake mixture is stirred with big paddles. Every 15 minutes, five pans are ready to come out.
After the mixture emerges from the oven, it’s weighed into eight-ounce, one-pound, two-pound, and three-pound balls. Each ball is pressed into a mold — loaves for the smaller weights and a tube-pan shape for the largest size.
“When we first started, we had a block of wood covered in plastic to press fruitcake for the one-pound and two-pound loaves,” Randy says. “Then we had a Tupperware bowl and a medicine bottle to make the hole in the center for the three-pound.”
Today, all of the shaping is done on a sophisticated table with built-in molds and hydraulic levers that press the cake. Randy engineered the table in his shop.
“I like to make things,” he says humbly.
During busy season, from mid-November to mid-December, the Southern Supreme fruitcake kitchen begins work at 4:30 a.m., and the first pans hit the oven by 5:30. One of Berta Lou Scott’s grandchildren, John Jordan, who works as a truck driver from January through July, parks his truck in August to oversee the fruitcake kitchen.
In one day, the kitchen turns out 3,000 pounds of fruitcake. In addition to fruitcake, Southern Supreme makes cheese florets, cookies, pralines, brittle, turtles, fudge, and all kinds of candied and chocolate-covered nuts. The Scotts make their own jams and jellies, too, beginning with strawberry in the spring and ending with peach in the summer.
“Momma always wants something new,” Belinda says. “And she expects us to make it happen.”
Well, the simple answer is that it’s the home of Southern Supreme.
“All I’ve got to do is say I live next to Southern Supreme, and people know exactly where I’m at,” Belinda says.
For the more complicated answer, Bear Creek is a rural community in southwest Chatham County. Cow pastures cover gently rolling hills as you weave along roads named for families and farmers who have called this area home for generations. Sanford lies 20 minutes down U.S. Highway 421; Siler City is 15 minutes in the other direction. Head west, and you’ll hit the Pottery Highway to Seagrove, or travel due south for the greens and fairways of the Sandhills.
“Everybody’s big saying when they get out of the car is, ‘We found it!’” Randy says. “When we first built this, we kept saying, ‘Ain’t nobody coming out here to the middle of nowhere to buy a fruitcake,’ and they sure proved us wrong.”
Today, the Scott family no longer sets up at shows. They still ship cakes through mail order. They also ship gift baskets and tins filled with goodies. During busy season, 25 pallets a day leave the shipping room. But in an age when gifts show up at your doorstep with one click, people still travel to Bear Creek to buy a Southern Supreme fruitcake.
“They like the experience,” says Lisa Scott, Randy’s wife. “They’re greeted when they come in. They can take a tour. They’re going to be fed a snack. The showroom is always decorated beautifully. And normally, there’s always some of us somewhere. They like to speak to a family member, especially when Berta Lou is here. They want to see her.”
And she wants to see them. This past summer, Berta Lou Scott had surgery at UNC Hospital in Chapel Hill. When Randy came to visit, he brought a bag full of Southern Supreme fruitcakes, and she passed them out. That afternoon, a nurse came by with tears in her eyes.
“I want y’all to know that my grandpa loved your fruitcake,” she said. “He’s since died, but I’ve been to your place many a time, and it’s just so wonderful to meet you.”
One of Berta Lou Scott’s most well-known lines is, “We’ve been blessed.”
During the holidays, Southern Supreme is a household name throughout the Southeast and beyond. The four Scott children and their spouses pursued their own careers and came back around to the family business. All eight of the Scott grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren live within a six-mile radius of the Scott homeplace.
Berta Lou Scott is undoubtedly proud of all of that, but her favorite part of this whole Southern Supreme journey is still watching customers come to Bear Creek and purchase one of her fruitcakes. She always believed they would. If she could just get them to try it. And if she sees customers headed to the register without a shiny gold box — even if they have a cart full of cheese florets and chocolates and nuts — she has one question for them: “Would you like to try some fruitcake?”