‘It all started with my family,’ said Patricia Hertzock. When Patricia’s daughter, Lucretia, needed a job, the retired teacher had an idea that would keep Lucretia busy and keep their family traditions alive. Although they never thought they’d be running their own business, after eight years, Yam Country Pies is thriving.
A baking tradition
Patricia learned to bake from watching her mother and grandmother, and Lucretia shared her mother’s love of baking from an early age. Lucretia remembers her grandmother giving her dough to practice with, but instead of playing, she said, ‘I actually made pies, and I was at a young age too.’
Along with her grandmother, Lucretia’s great-aunt also helped her learn to bake: ‘She would say, “Come sit right here, look how it’s supposed to look,” and I would just learn from her,’ Lucretia said. ‘From then on, I would remember the smells and all the cakes they always made.’
Lucretia started small, using an Easy Bake Oven. ‘She still has that oven,’ Patricia added.
‘I would get everything I could find to bake in it, from my aunts and everybody,’ Lucretia related.
Patricia recalled a 10-year-old Lucretia’s late-night baking sessions for her siblings. ‘Oh, my husband and I would be sleeping at night … and I would smell the vanilla after, around 12 o’clock.
I said, “Is somebody cooking? Somebody’s baking,” so it was Lucretia, and her brothers and sisters around her waiting for the pies to come out. There were little cookies or tea cakes that they were learning to make.’
Lucretia has come a long way from the small pies of her Easy Bake Oven, though. At Yam Country Pies, the pair sells around 300 pies a day. While they offer a variety of flavours, the clear favourite is the sweet potato pie, which accounts for over 200 pies each day.
From Opelousas to the world
While Yam Country Pies operates out of a modest location, their pies have fans around the world. Their goal is to expand in the next five years, taking the business state-wide, at least. They’ve also had a lot of requests to ship their pies, so are looking into ways to take their pies to the nation.
However, don’t expect a Yam Country cookbook any time soon. ‘There are basic recipes everywhere, it’s just what we do that makes it more special,’ Lucretia said.
It’s that ‘something special’ that has made Yam Country Pies such a draw. The pair say that many people who say they don’t like sweet potato pie are converts to the dessert after tasting theirs. ‘[They] tasted ours and they said they never did eat the pie, but this one is different,’ Patricia said.
They also recalled a veteran’s appreciation for their pies. ‘[He] said, “I’ve been around the world four times, but I’d walk the Sahara Desert for a pie like this,”’ Patricia recalls.
Although Patricia puts most of her energy into the potatoes, she’s also considering adding some other family favourites to the menu. Lucretia has a few suggestions from the family recipes, but Patricia is fixated on an old-fashioned sour cream pound cake.
A community focus
Family and community are at the heart of Yam Country Pies, the business has help from local high school students. The teens help with the preparation of the pies, a task that starts from 8am five days a week.
The traditional recipes the business uses are an important way of keeping the community together. Patricia’s aunt began baking pies to raise money for Holy Ghost Church, selling them each week at bingo. When she passed away, Patricia and Lucretia kept the tradition going.
The business carries on this same tradition.
One tradition they have sadly lost is the Creole language, which neither of them speaks. ‘When we were in school, they told us not to,’ Patricia remembered. ‘And they even sent the parents a note: “Do not teach your children that”, because they thought it was interfering with learning English, which was a mistake and I was sorry my grandmother didn’t teach me.’
However, the Creole traditions are still strong in this family-run business. They are working to keep the past alive through the flavours of their pies, something that has clearly struck a chord with their customers.
For the holidays, they get a lot of orders for large pies, allowing for families in the area to enjoy these traditional recipes. With orders up to 200 pies, they are quickly becoming a family tradition for many Louisiana homes.
Although Patricia may not be willing to share their family recipes, she does offer a bit of advice on keeping a Yam Country pie.
‘If you want to keep any, we highly recommend you freeze them, which preserves them well at home.’