Cake-patting bakers dwindling…

Dr. Don Newbury

Origin of the nursery rhyme dates back to merry old England, circa 1760, when many bakers were interspersed with butchers and candlestick-makers. An eager-to-please and happy lot, they were fully prepared when young parents ordered cakes that were "patted, and rolled, and marked with a ‘B’."

"Comin’ right up," the baker might say, trying to remember the second verse of "Pat-A-Cake" and wondering if Mother Goose ever got rhyming help from "Father Goose."

Funny, isn’t it, how some rhymes have held up well across the centuries? Some say the "hand jive" that goes with "Pat-A-Cake" gives an early clue as to the babe’s rhythmic bent, or lack thereof….

Sadly, orders for these specialty items have waned.

It would take a concerted effort by Sara Lee or Wal-Mart to reverse the trend. This would mean marketing items baked in massive ovens, rolled across conveyors and trucked across the country. There would be no tinkling bell on the door to signal customers’ arrival, no grand aroma of fresh-baked goods and no smiling baker to assure that said cakes are properly patted, rolled and marked. In centuries to come, the rhyme may begin, "Many years ago in a faraway place…."

Alas, small bakeries are now but few; there are far easier ways to make a living….

Texas bakeries that are family-owned for 60-plus years now number in the few dozens.

Two such remaining businesses are the Dietz Bakery in Fredericksburg and the Slaton Bakery, operated by the Wilson family, in Slaton. Both date back to the early 20’s.

Both remain extremely popular, with a couple of veteran bakers committed to 60-hour work weeks—when they’re lucky….

Donald Dietz and his wife, Marcia, have continued the family tradition for 32 years. Don goes to work at midnight, Mondays through Fridays, hoping to get back home by the following noon. He bakes throughout the night, mostly white bread for locals and pumpernickel for tourists.

Doors open at 8 a.m., Tuesdays through Saturdays, and are locked when they sell out, often by noon.

(Sort of like Lum and Abner’s "Jot’em Down Store" in Pine Ridge, where signs read: "Open when we get here, closed when we leave," and, "If you need it, we got it; if we ain’t got it, you don’t need it.")

Ladies working the counter at Dietz Bakery have sleeves rolled up for the busy morning traffic. They appreciate patience, with a sign reading: "I only work here because I’m too old for a paper route, too young for Social Security, and too tired for an affair."

Marcia has another sign warning about ingredients that can cause food reactions.

And she’s threatening to display a cartoon declaring, "Our kitchen staff may contain some nuts."

Don is the only baker, and she’s afraid he might go on strike….

Sherrell Wilson and wife, Robin, have operated the Slaton Bakery for 34 years.

Born into the business, Sherrell had a different kind of baby bed at the bakery. It was a bread delivery case made of metal and was later used as a toy box.

Like Don, who was wrapping bread at age eight, Sherrell started chores early. When just four years of age, he was extracting cake pans from storage. Storage, however, was in a 55-gallon cinnamon barrel that was deeper than his granddaddy was tall.

"Papa Carroll dangled me by my feet so I could retrieve the pans," Sherrell recalls….

The Wilsons have hundreds of letters from adults whose top shelf of childhood memories includes the bakery’s sugar cookies and chocolate-covered doughnuts.

One teenager wrote, "When I start dating, I won’t have any money to spend, but I can take her down to the bakery to sit on the curb and just smell."

Sherrell, a joker, recalls the time an electrician replaced a motor in the big mixer. "You got the wires backward," he told the man later. "The blamed thing is ‘unmixing’ everything we put in it," he joked….

Some of his stories are "taller than tall."

Knowing this, customers often visit the bakery as much for "half-baked" stories as fully baked pastries.

A while back, a customer claimed that there was a sliver of apple in the apple fritters he’d bought at the bakery. "That new gal helping me bake is in deep trouble," Sherrell deadpanned. "My apple fritter recipe doesn’t include apples, not even slivers."

Dr. Newbury is a speaker and author in the Metroplex. He welcomes inquiries and comments. Send email to: Call: 817-447-3872. His website: