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The Journal News
Lola’s Tea House article featuring G & K Sweet.
November 11, 2009Two local women sell a sweet-potato pie just like grandma used to make. Sweet tribute

Linda Lombroso

When Gay Wheeler-Smith and Kecia Palmer-Cousins talk about their favorite dessert, it’s with a mixture of pride and nostalgia.

G&K Sweet Foods’ Grandma’s Momma’s Sweet Potato Pie is the same confection that Wheeler-Smith’s great-grandmother used to bake in the kitchen of her Bronx home.

The deep-dish pie, based on an old Southern recipe, is the first in a line of “Legacy Licious” desserts — a name the pair have trademarked, with plans to add bread pudding, peach cobbler and apple pie to the mix.

Although they officially launched the sweet-potato pie two years ago — and have been selling it online and at Lola’s Tea House in Pelham — they just received certification in New York City from Minority Women Business Enterprises, which will allow them greater exposure. Many retailers with diversity programs, they explain, actively seek out commercial bakers that are MWBE certified.

This week, they also will be offering tastes of the pie at a dessert night at Lola’s (see box).

But despite its rising profile, Grandma’s Momma’s Sweet Potato Pie comes from humble beginnings.

Wheeler-Smith, a nursing administrator who lives in New Rochelle, recalls a childhood spent baking in her great-grandmother’s kitchen, where the women of the family would tell stories as they peeled and boiled sweet potatoes and prepared dough for the crust.

Her great-grandmother used a Hellman’s mayonnaise jar as a rolling pin, she says, and pinched the edges of her crust with a fork. Getting together was far more than a cooking lesson.

“It was a time where we were able to learn about our history, learn about our family and learn how to bake all together,’’ she says.

“The pie evokes memories, and we wanted to encourage people to remember their grandmothers and great-grandmothers,’’ says Palmer-Cousins, a telecommunications executive who lives in Peekskill and is a daughter-in-law of New York state Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins.

“It’s all about tradition and family.’’

“It’s a way to just say thank you and pay homage to the legacy,’’ adds Wheeler-Smith.

The pair, who call themselves “mompreneurs,” met in 1997 and are graduates of the Women’s Enterprise Development Center’s entrepreneur training program. Wheeler-Smith had long dreamed of commercializing her great-grandmother’s pie, but it wasn’t until she teamed up with Palmer-Cousins that she realized the plan might work.

Although the women are quite secretive about the recipe for the pie, they will allow that it contains organic eggs, butter and flour. It is those organic ingredients, they believe, that contribute to the pie’s old-fashioned good taste.

The pie contains no preservatives and is flash-frozen to preserve freshness.

Carol Jordan of New Rochelle, who orders the sweet potato pie in bulk, says she stashes it in hiding places around her house for fear of running out. She describes its flavor as “fresh and full bodied,’’ with a “melt-in-your-mouth” goodness.

“It reminds everybody of home, the way grandma used to make it,’’ says Jordan, who plans to serve the pies for Thanksgiving. “I am going to order as many as I can, but one for me only with my name on it.”

This season, G&K Sweet Foods has added a six-inch mini pie to its line. The company’s standard sweet-potato pie is nine inches in size.

The commercial kitchen in Poughkeepsie, where the sweet potato pie is currently baked, can produce plenty of pies in time for Thanksgiving, say Wheeler-Smith and Palmer-Cousins.

What if some home cooks want to serve Grandma’s Momma’s Sweet Potato Pie and make believe they baked it all by themselves? The women laugh.

“We won’t tell,’’ says Wheeler-Smith.

“Their secret is safe with us,’’ says Palmer-Cousins.

Additional Facts

Dessert Night at Lola’s Lola’s Tea House in Pelham, a cozy tea shop owned by Leslie Allicks, will host an evening of tea and desserts Friday, featuring samples of sweets on the menu, most of which come from local women-owned businesses.
A few of those women will be on hand at the event, taking orders for the holidays. You can buy the other sweets at retail shops and restaurants.
Featured desserts will include sweet-potato pie from G&K Sweet Foods, owned by Gay Wheeler-Smith and Kecia Palmer-Cousins; biscotti from Cathy’s Biscotti, owned by Cathy Schauber of White Plains; chocolates from Maria Valente, formerly of Chocolations, in Mamaroneck; and rugelach from Suzanne’s Sweets, owned by Suzanne Fromm of Katonah.
Dessert night will run from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday. Admission is $15. Lola’s Tea House is at 130 Fifth Ave., Pelham.  914-738-2100 , lolasteahouse.com.