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Christmas was always a busy time at Shealy’s Bakery. Wilsonians who were loyal to their hometown bakery depended on the Shealy family from 1939 to 1992 to help them with their holiday entertaining.
They wanted holiday cupcakes and cookies, sponge cakes to make tipsy cake, tiny butter biscuits to stuff with salty country ham.
From Thanksgiving to December, it was non-stop, Marie Shealy said.
“The oven was rarely cut off.” Employees would just catch a nap and keep going, she said.
There were many long hours as the staff worked to make their signature cakes and pies, cheese straws, chocolate cream rolls and pineapple drops for their customers.
The radio played Christmas carols while everyone worked — regular staff, holiday extras and even family members.
Shealy’s husband, John, did the baking. Marie Shealy did the finishing work — the fillings and decorating. John, who died in 1992, and Marie learned the trade working beside John’s parents.
“Mrs. Shealy was a great cook,” she said.
Shealy, who started at the bakery right out of high school in 1951, said they loved what they were doing and developed a special connection with their customers.
She enjoyed serving people, she said, and the entire family worked to please their customers.
Those customers haven’t forgotten Shealy’s Bakery and miss their favorite recipes.
Shealy said she seldom goes out without someone mentioning the bakery.
“Miss Shealy, are you still making brownies?” they ask.
Then they share good memories of the bakery and tell her their favorite treat, perhaps the spice bars or petit fours like the ones the bakery made for baby showers, weddings and birthday parties.
“You know, at my age, that does a lot to you,” she said.
Shealy’s granddaughter has told her how the bakery pops up in nostalgic conversations on social media from time to time, and that brings her a renewed connection to her former customers.
“It’s got to be a love connection that was there through food,” she said.
And although she doesn’t usually share her recipes, she’s decided to give her former customers a present: the recipe for cherry nut bars.
The sweet treat is filled with candied cherries and chopped pecans and rolled in powdered sugar.
Shealy is used to making very large batches of recipes, so it’s not easy to give out a recipe for several dozen pieces of a dessert when she is used to making eight times that amount in the bakery’s industrial mixer that now sits in her kitchen. But she worked out the recipe for a smaller batch of cherry nut bars.
Shealy makes the chewy nut bars from time to time and puts them in the freezer before covering the cut pieces with powdered sugar.
They are always appreciated!
When December rolls around, she remembers those special bakery days, on Barnes Street and later Parkwood Mall.
She doesn’t bake like she used to, but she will be making the traditional birthday cake for Jesus for the family Christmas celebration.
“When holidays come, I just have to do a little something to bring out the holiday. It’s just in me,” she said. “We always did that.”
When Shealy thinks back on her career and the many years she spent working at the bakery, she knows she found her calling.
“I can’t think of anything I could have done in my life I would have enjoyed any more.”