Bakery a Big Diehl
Living up to the name of it’s location at the corner of Pleasant Street and Poplar Avenue, the bakery of former Muncy High School French teacher James Diehl can be found in the shadow of Geisinger’s Henry Hood Research Center.
Danville’s one-man enterprise is appropriately named “La Maison Blanche Bakery,” translation The White House Bakery.
Enticing aromas escape from this residential site purchased by his in-laws in the 1940s. Sweet smells envelope the area coaxing hospital staff and visitors to find them by following their noses.
A well-organized work and sales area greets customers upon entering the rear of the bi-level. The glass door of the refrigeration units reveal some of the 30 dozen eggs used weekly, pounds of real butter bricks and a case of lemons. After zesting and juiced, they’re the main ingredients for delicious lemon bars, and sales are guaranteed after tasting tempting samplings.
Apples stuffed in the oversized dumplings come from local orchards as do any other ingredients he can find. Multiple choices of cookies, pies, sticky buns, muffins, breads and sour cream coffee cakes are assured.
“The bakery is open Wednesday through Friday, but if our car’s here you may come in,” Diehl said. On Saturday the baker and his goods can be found along Mill Street in a storefront next to the Salvation Army store. “Local children refer to me as the cookie man. Even while driving by, they’ll wave and yell, hey, there’s the cookie man,” he said.
“To me everything in the bakery is special, I don’t have favorites,” said Diehl. As he vocally listed the cornucopia of cookie varieties, one had the impression Cherry Winks rate high on his chart. “Rolled in corn flakes encasing dates and nuts, it’s an old family recipe,” Diehl said.
The Washingtonville area native’s mother died when he was two. Eventually the family became 15 in number with the addition of a step-mother and children becoming a family of hers, his and theirs.
“Sometimes while my step-mother attended to other things, she allowed me to knead the dough down and when older, I was in charge of baking birthday cakes,” he said.
Diehl’s baking skills never ceased even as he spent 29 years teaching at Muncy, retiring in 1993. He indicated students might best remember the French onion and cheese baguettes. “I’d send loaves home with students and later learned most didn’t last till the evening meal,” he said.
The Diehls established an annual award for a most deserving French student at MHS. Each Christmas they bake and sell “Bushe Noel” or Yule Logs. Interest from the $8,000 earned thus far generates the scholarship.
When annual Indian Fests were held everyone depended on the Diehls to supply baked goods.
Ever the consummate teacher, Diehl’s current students include nine grandchildren. “When we have 30 eggs and have broken four, I ask how many are left. That’s math,” he said.
For holidays grandchildren are gifted money, but receive it only after reciting the six “S” rule. Save Some, Spend Some, Share Some.
The shop’s registry holds signatures of persons from 29 countries. “They come for research study and find us just across the street,” said the baker. There are also listing from more than 40 states.
Muncians finding the “out of the way” bakery include Mary and John Palmer, Sally and Garman Zehner, Loretta Ryder and Ann Waltman.
Former students from his early classes have been Christine Frist, Cindy Karschner and from Florida, David Nicewinter, an air traffic controller at Tampa airport.
Of his second career Diehl said, “I could have retired to an easy chair, but then I’d never see anyone.”
The baker in his tall hat along with his wife in a red and white candy striped apron, invite all to seek out “La Maison Blanche Bakery,” also known as, the best kept secret in Danville.