FOR 71 YEARS, THE PACEY FAMILY HAS BEEN MAKING CANDY AND CANNING SOUTHERN DELICACIES ON ALABAMA’S EASTERN SHORE
In the late summer or early fall, you might find Paul Pacey at one of the end of a table mixing; his daughter Kim Pacey Clay at the other end using the back of a serving spoon to pack ingredients tightly into various sizes and shapes of pans; and his wife Susan Pacey on the opposite side of the table adorning unbaked cakes with pecans and glacé fruit, like cherries and pineapples.
If you walk into Miss Colleen’s house at 17111 Scenic Highway 98 and see that scene, you know it is fruitcake making time at Punta Clara Kitchen on Alabama’s Eastern Shore.
The Pacey family uses a recipe that is more than 100 years old, passed down from generation to generation.
This year, whenever the final pan goes into the oven for its two-hour bake, they hope to have 750 pounds of fruitcake for their customers to buy this holiday season.
That is about 250 pounds more than last year, but if you haven’t ordered yours yet, do it soon, because for the past three years they’ve sold out before December.
Dorothy Brodbeck Pacey (1920-2008), Paul’s mother and Kim’s grandmother, started Punta Clara Kitchen in 1952 as a backyard hobby, about a mile and a half down the road from her grandfather’s house in Point Clear’s historic district. In 1974, Dorothy inherited the house from her Aunt Colleen, a portion of which has been home to the Punta Clara Kitchen ever since.
The business began when a friend of Dorothy’s suggested she sell her fig preserves rather than give them away. Today, the Paceys still put up and sell fig preserves. “We actually go and pick our figs from people nearby who have fig trees,” said Kim Pacey Clay, president and manager of the family business. As much as possible, the family uses local produce. The pecans in the fruitcakes, for example, come from the Underwood Pecan Farm in Summerdale.
The Paceys don’t grow any crops, even though you can find glass jars glistening on shelves in front of massive windows filled with 25 different fruits and vegetables. Besides figs, there’s pickled okra, watermelon rind/bread and butter and other pickles, pepper/scuppernong/muscadine and other jellies, peach preserves, raspberry jam, orange marmalade and candied jalapenos (Kim’s recipe).
While the fruitcake recipe is Bessie Brodbeck’s (Dorothy’s mother’s), Kim says 90% of the recipes Punta Clara Kitchen uses today are Dorothy’s, including the pralines Dorothy and her husband developed when they were just starting the business in the early 1950s. The business is also known for its fudge, divinity and polliwogs (a milk chocolate base topped with a vanilla caramel and pecans). The “old-fashioned confections that bring people back to their childhood memories” tend to be the biggest sellers, said Kim.
Besides fruitcakes at Christmas, the Paceys also sell panoramic sugar eggs and chocolate bunnies at Easter. Brandee Pacey, one of Dorothy’s granddaughters, had the idea to decorate the bunnies with masks when COVID hit, which boosted sales to 800 bunnies in 2020. Brandee is Punta Clara Kitchen’s resident cake baker and decorator.
When the fruitcakes are being made, Brandee is also around the table as is Amy Boddie, who weighs the cakes out in one, two, three and five-pound increments. Amy’s also responsible for social media for the business.
Kim recommends getting some of the earliest fruitcakes made, even if you are buying or having them shipped closer to the holidays. “They’re better, the longer they sit,” she said. “They’ll easily be good for three to six months” without refrigeration or freezing and will last longer when cooled.
The recipe includes brandy. “We cook ’em, they cool off, and then we put ’em down in tubs and airtight containers with apple slices to kind of soften ’em up,” said Kim. “Then, we take ’em out of that and we season ’em with more brandy, and then we shrink (wrap) ’em and pack them. They are well pickled by the time they go out on the shelf.”
MEMBER SINCE 2012: Punta Clara Kitchen at 17111 Scenic Highway 98 in Point Clear is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 12:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays year-round. On Christmas Eve, it is open 9 a.m. to noon. It is closed Independence Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.
Story and photos by Nancy King Dennis