SELINSGROVE – Growing up in Tampa, Florida, David Wharton learned to bake Southern treats like tea cakes and sweet potato pies which he now creates in a commercial kitchen at All Saints Episcopal Church in Selinsgrove.
“I have always cooked,” Wharton said. “My biggest influence is my aunt” Mary Ann Hill, who operated a restaurant in Florida from 1956 to 1971, listed in the Green Book, a travel guide for companies that accept African-American customers and published between 1936 and 1966.
The 57-year-old cries a little as he talks about the beloved relative who died in 1978, a year after being diagnosed with cancer, but Hill’s cooking skills are still appreciated by customers at the Wharton bakery business , David’s Delicious Delights.
After moving to Selinsgrove in 2014 when his wife, Stacey Pearson-Wharton, accepted a job at Susquehanna University, Wharton worked in sales for a few years before deciding to return to the kitchen where he began to whip up the Southern baked goods he dreamed of but couldn’t find in central Pennsylvania.
Since his relatives did not always bake with a written recipe, he began to experiment and send his own version of a tea cake to cousins to determine which tasted like the one his aunt was making.
“It took me about six months to a year to figure it out,” he said.
As interest in his homemade treats grew in popularity locally, Wharton began to focus more on baking and eventually outgrown his home cooking.
“I cooked at home for about a year and a half and the cooking was chaotic all the time,” he said.
His wife had other concerns.
“David working outside is better for my waistline,” said Pearson-Wharton.
Wharton was referred by a friend to Reverend Paul Donecker at All Saints Episcopal Church on Market Street, where volunteers from Martha’s Table, a non-profit organization, cook meals three times a month that are provided to the public free of charge.
Donecker has opened the state-inspected church kitchen in Wharton two to three days a week, which donates for its use.
“The kitchen is not fully used, so why not?” He said.
Donecker, who occasionally hears Wharton singing at work, said he liked the church to be used for the benefit of the community, as Founder Mary Snyder intended when it was built in 1900.
Much of what Wharton does in the kitchen helps people connect with their pasts through the food he cooks.
“People send me pictures and recipes,” he said. “If I can take you back to a place in time, it’s worth it.” “
Selinsgrove resident Mitch Alday said Wharton was able to do just that for him.
Raised in southwest Georgia, Alday said moving to central Pennsylvania was an adjustment for him due to the colder weather and the difficulty finding homemade southern food.
“I grew up eating Colibri cake. It’s a very southern thing that you would get at Grandma’s house on Thanksgiving. David does like my grandmother, ”he said. “Because of David’s food, I still have a connection to the house. “
The pastry shop has also kept Wharton connected to its past.
“We don’t often have the opportunity to rediscover our passions. It’s one of the things I’m so proud of about David, ”said Pearson-Wharton.
Wharton’s baked goods are sold at Selinsgrove Farmer’s weekly markets and several area restaurants, as well as online at: www.davidsdeliciousdelights.com.