About Mary of Puddin HillThe Puddin Hill tradition began in 1839 when James and Mary Horton came to the heart of the Blackland Prairie region of northeast Texas. James Horton had received 620 acres of land as payment for his services to the Republic of Texas. As his descendants like to tell it, the new country was short on money, but long on land, so that's how James Horton was paid.
It had rained the day the Hortonís arrived at their new home. Rainwater makes any patch of Texas blackland soil a soggy, gummy mess and, despite the conditions, James insisted that he and his family look around the site. He led them to the crest of a small hill, while Mary struggled through the thick, black mud. "This is like walking through pudding," she said. It was inspiration enough. Horton spread his arms wide and proudly shouted, "Well then, welcome to Puddin Hill!"
That Mary Horton was the first "Mary" on Puddin Hill, and it was her recipe for pecan fruit cake that has been passed on from generation to generation as a holiday tradition.
In 1948, more than a century later, Mary's great granddaughter, Mary Horton Lauderdale, and her husband Sam were students at the University of Texas. Mary was a home economics graduate and Sam was a G.I. Bill chemical engineering student. "The G.I. Bill allowed us $90 a month and we were hungrier than that", recalls Mary.
At Christmas, Mary gave a fruitcake baked from the heirloom recipe to her home economics professor, who said, "If you ever need any extra money, this cake will sell.". The next Christmas, Mary and Sam started making fruit cakes in their tiny apartment. Mary's parents loaned the money to buy the fruit, and friends helped prepare the cakes. Five hundred pounds of fruitcake later, they realized that they might be on to something.
Sam and Mary decided to return to Mary's hometown of Greenville and give the business several years of all-out effort. They converted the laundry room at Mary's parents' home into a small bakery and went to work. The business grew and, several years later, they were able to purchase a few acres of the Puddin Hill farm to build a new facility.
We have continued to grow and improve every year since then. We bake thousands of pounds of fruitcake now, and have added chocolates and other baked goods to our product line.
Mary Horton's original recipe has never been changed. The cakes are still made with an abundance of nuts (pecan, apricot and walnut varieties), cherries, pineapple and dates with just enough batter to hold it all together. There are no spices or citron, and no preservatives or additives.
"Little Puds" are made with the same recipe, but are miniature fruit cakes, individually baked for serving convenience. They are named for the Lauderdaleís daughter. "She was nicknamed 'Little Pud' before she was even born," Mary relates.
In 1980 the candy kitchen was added. Here, luscious treats such as caramel and pecan clusters and rich fudge are covered in melted chocolate. A crunchy nut brittle loaded with pecans, appropriately called "Pecan Krunch," is cooked in the copper pots and poured out onto cooling tables where it is rolled into a thin layer. Elsewhere, molded chocolates are prepared for the retail store.
Peak production at the company begins in September, when seasonal employees report to make the products and process the orders that come from all over the United States. The business is primarily built around catalog and online orders, with about 1/2 a million catalogs mailed out each year. We have customers who have been ordering for years, and we think of them as friends. It's always fun to see who has written us.
Shipping the cakes presents a challenge when thousands of packages are mailed in a two-week period in early December. That's the most exciting time at Puddin Hill. We've worked hard all year to get ready to play Santa to thousands of people. Finally, we start loading the trucks with all those presents. It's a hectic, but happy time. After Christmas, the place settles down some, while preparing our new catalog for the next year.
The Puddin Hill Store was added in 1975. The factory and seasonal Puddin Hill Store are located on Interstate 30 in Greenville and attract many travelers. There are tempting samples of many Puddin Hill products, and visitors are urged to try them all. The store also carries gourmet foods, one of-a-kind gift packages and a wide variety of candies.
The Puddin Hill Store operating hours are 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, Monday through Saturday.