A Family Recipe Becomes a Business: Mamie & Makhi’s Sweet Potato Pie

by Sarah Henry on November 5, 2010 · 41 comments

in baking,berkeley bites,food businesses,vegetables

Berkeley native Lois Porter took a beloved family recipe and developed a sweet potato filling that takes some of the time out of cooking with these nutritious tubers.

Under her Mamie & Makhi’s Sweet Potato Pie label, Porter makes pie batter that can be used as a base for biscuits, pancakes, fritters — even ice cream — and, pie, of course.

With the seasonal shift to fall and Thanksgiving around the corner, her perishable product is finding homes all around town.

Her tubs of creamy sweet potato filling have been picked up by both Berkeley Bowls and make their debut tomorrow at the Beehive Market. The mostly organic product is also available at Piedmont Grocery and hits the aisles soon at Whole Foods in Oakland.

Until this time last year, Porter made her pie filling mainly for family and friends. The 44-year-old, who has a background in marketing and advertising, decided to test the market and held a launch party at The Wooden Duck. Two months ago, she left her job as a director at Aquatic Park School to focus full-time on her small batch batter business.

The single mom, who has an adult daughter, lives with her young son in South Berkeley. We talked earlier this week at Sweet Adeline’s Bakeshop.

How did you come up with the name for your business?

My father came to live with me about eight years ago because he was sick. He had high blood pressure, kidney failure, and heart problems. He wanted me to cook his favorite dishes, things like greens with ham hocks and fried chicken. I told him he couldn’t eat like that anymore. He wanted recipes that his mother, my grandmother Mamie, used to make. So I found the recipe for her sweet potato pie and I started making it for him. It made him so happy.

I was pregnant with my son at the time. When Makhi was a baby I used to make pie for his grandfather and scrape the sweet potato filling out for him.

My father was so proud of that pie and so enamored with his new grandson. He was delighted to help me develop the product. We named it after Mamie & Makhi. My father, son, and I all went together to get sweet potatoes (actually yams) from Art Davis, the older African American farmer at the farmers’ market. I’d experiment with different ingredients and different ways of making the batter. My dad died eight years ago at the age of 68. He’d be thrilled I started this business.

Did you ever consider calling yourself Lois the Pie Queen?

Oh, no, there is already one of those and she is legendary. Though, funnily enough, that’s what kids called me in school — and I didn’t bake pies back then.

How is your product different from the sweet potato pie your grandmother made?

It has only eight ingredients: sweet potatoes (and/or yams), nutmeg, vanilla, eggs, cream, butter, sugar, and salt. Everything is organic, except the cream, which is now actually evaporated milk, it helps with the consistency of the product. My new labels will reflect that change. I also bake my sweet potatoes, which allows the natural sugars in the vegetables to come out, so I don’t need to use as much sugar as my grandmother, who boiled the tubers, did. And I use Beauregard yams because I find they give me the texture, color, and taste I want.

What was it like growing up in Berkeley in a biracial family?

I feel blessed to be biracial. At the time my parents got together, they couldn’t marry; my mother was white and my father African-American. When my parents split up, my father moved around the corner, so he was always a presence in my life growing up.

My mother, who died of cancer at 58, told my sisters and I: “You are young, black women. That’s how the world is going to look at you.”

She wanted to make sure she gave us a solid black experience growing up, even if it was through her white eyes. She took us to black ballet performances, we wore dashikis, grew Afros, and took Afro-Haitian dance class. There was a lot of talk at home about Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Harriet Tubman. But we also went to see our white relatives in Massachusetts and spent time in the summer on Martha’s Vineyard.

We attended St. Joseph’s, a black Catholic school that went to the 8th grade. I didn’t feel black enough. The kids down the street used to chase us and call us zebras.

It wasn’t until I got to Berkeley High School that I had to decide whether I was white or black. I chose to identify as African American.

Where do you see yourself going with your new food business?

I want to build my business by focusing on distribution. And I want to start a Mamie & Makhi’s Foundation, to help young women, particularly young African-American women, develop their own food products and pass on family recipes and food traditions. I want it to be a community kitchen, like La Cocina in San Francisco, which mainly serves Latina women.

[This post originally appeared on Berkeleyside.]

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{ 39 comments… read them below or add one }

Steph Auteri November 5, 2010 at 9:36 am

I love this story… maybe because I have a thing for sweet potato pie? But also because I love that she created a business out of something so fun, and so rooted in family tradition.

In fact… god, I’m really hungry now. Must. make something. sweet.

Thanks for sharing this story with us!
Steph Auteri´s last [type] ..Reason To Write- It Got Me Cooking

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Sarah Henry November 7, 2010 at 3:10 pm

Agreed, Steph, for all the reasons you express. Did you make yourself something sweet to nosh on?

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Steph Auteri November 7, 2010 at 3:20 pm

Nutella Pound Cake. It was delicious!
Steph Auteri´s last [type] ..Reason To Write- It Got Me Cooking

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Marthaandme November 5, 2010 at 9:49 am

I have never had sweet potato pie, can you believe it? It’s pumpkin all the way in my family. I would love to try some though!

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Sarah Henry November 5, 2010 at 11:00 am

You know, M&Me, I think I prefer the sweet potato pie. So do check it out.

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Alexandra November 5, 2010 at 9:55 am

Interested to hear the background on this one! In my family, we have an annual argument about which type of pie tastes better. I’m pumpkin, my daughter swears by sweet potato. I will forward this post to her.
Alexandra´s last [type] ..B&ampB Etiquette- When Is A Hug Appropriate

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Sarah Henry November 5, 2010 at 11:01 am

Happy to further a family argument, Sandy;).

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Michele @ Healthy Cultivations November 5, 2010 at 10:08 am

Sweet potato pie is a special treat I’ve only experienced a few times. This is a lovely post.

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Sarah Henry November 5, 2010 at 11:03 am

Thanks, Michele, for chiming in. Nice to see you here. Speaking of treats…it’s coming up to that time of the year.

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Melanie @ Frugal Kiwi November 5, 2010 at 10:14 am

Seriously mouthwatering. I love sweet potato pie, but can’t get what I would call “normal” sweet potatoes here. In New Zealand we have kumara, which is a type of sweet potato, but more starchy like a regular spud. Would LOVE to try this pie.
Melanie @ Frugal Kiwi´s last [type] ..Homemade Holiday Gift Ideas

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Sarah Henry November 7, 2010 at 3:11 pm

I know what you mean, Melanie, but I do love me some kumara, rocket (arugula), parmesan salad that’s all the rage Down Under.

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Sheryl November 5, 2010 at 10:25 am

I like sweet-potato-anything (esp. fries!) but haven’t tried pie – yet. Thanks for opening up my eyes to the possibilities. I also found it interesting to read about bi-racial identity and how Lois’ mother, although white, prepared her daughters to be black women.

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Sarah Henry November 5, 2010 at 11:02 am

Lois’s mom sounds cool — and quite the trail blazer too, don’t you think?
As for sweet potato fries — love ‘em too!

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Alisa Bowman November 5, 2010 at 1:37 pm

I love reading these profiles of local businesses. I’m glad you are supporting them in this way!
Alisa Bowman´s last [type] ..The Fabulous PHEA Giveaway

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Sarah Henry November 5, 2010 at 1:54 pm

Thx, Alisa. I’m glad they’re popping up all over. Entreprenurial spirit is alive and well despite (or maybe even because of ) the downturn in the economy.

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Christine November 5, 2010 at 1:38 pm

I’ve never had sweet potato pie, but it sounds delicious! I have had Japanese sweet potato cakes, which are held together by cream, sugar, and a bit of egg – nothing else. I wonder if the taste is similar at all, or if I could convert that to something that tastes more like this. (The recipe is on my blog).
I really adore the name of her business!
Christine´s last [type] ..Malabrigo hat pattern

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Sarah Henry November 5, 2010 at 1:55 pm

It does sound similar, Christine. Send us a link to your recipe, if you like.

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Ruth Pennebaker November 5, 2010 at 1:44 pm

I agree with one of your earlier commenters: Your personality profiles are so enjoyable and well-done.
Ruth Pennebaker´s last [type] ..Rewriting the Script

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Sarah Henry November 5, 2010 at 1:56 pm

Aw shucks, Ruth, thanks. But as I tell people: These folks have such good stories to tell, I’m just the conduit.

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MyKidsEatSquid November 5, 2010 at 2:50 pm

I love that she uses only 8 ingredients. Sounds like a fun person to spend some time with. I have to ask, did you take that picture? It’s great.

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sarah henry November 5, 2010 at 5:41 pm

Isn’t it great? Captures Lois’s spirit. But I can’t take credit for it.

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Jennifer Margulis November 5, 2010 at 9:08 pm

I’ve had sweet potato ice cream once, and it was fabulous. She sounds great.
Jennifer Margulis´s last [type] ..What Do You Think About Blog Giveaways

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Sarah Henry November 5, 2010 at 11:47 pm

And that sounds delicious, Jennifer. I bet it would taste good with candied pecan pieces too.

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Casey@Good. Food. Stories. November 7, 2010 at 9:35 am

I bet you could make excellent sweet potato ice cream with Lois’ batter! Just add more cream/milk (and yes, candied pecans, yum!) and whir it up in the ice cream maker. What Californian wants to report back from the Thanksgiving dinner table?
Casey@Good. Food. Stories.´s last [type] ..GUEST POST- The Joy and Mania of Pickling

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sarah henry November 7, 2010 at 3:03 pm

I’ll get my best people on the sweet potato ice cream beat, Casey.
sarah henry´s last [type] ..A Family Recipe Becomes a Business- Mamie &amp Makhi’s Sweet Potato Pie

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Jane Boursaw November 6, 2010 at 4:53 pm

This sounds amazing and yummy, and once again, you meet THE most interesting people, Sarah! I love that she wants to help young women develop their own food products and help to pass along their traditions. Awesome.
Jane Boursaw´s last [type] ..New Movie Friday- Megamind! Due Date! 127 Hours!

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sarah henry November 6, 2010 at 9:05 pm

Yes, I, too, love that Lois wants to help the next generation carry on food traditions that have been passed on for years.

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Tracy November 6, 2010 at 5:46 pm

I have tried this sweet potato pie batter several times! It cooks up a delicious pie consistently and is the BEST sweet potato product on the market that I have ever tasted! I really love the sweet potato pancakes, too. Much props to Lois!

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Sarah Henry November 7, 2010 at 3:18 pm

Hi Tracy, Thanks for chiming in with personal experience with this product.

We’re making sweet potato biscuits at my house tonight.

Nice to see you here.

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Susan November 7, 2010 at 6:28 am

I love, love, love sweet potatoes, but I’m curious if she’s considering expanding into other types of pie batters? Or maybe a combo blend like sweet potato and cranberry? I sampled a bunch of flavored pestos this summer at an open market, and they were delicious! Who’d have thought that something like blueberry or rasphberry pest would be that good?

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sarah henry November 7, 2010 at 3:04 pm

Good question, Susan, I’ll ask Lois. One of the things about her batter is you can put your own stamp on it, adding coconut, cranberries, or candied pecans or whatever else your taste buds desire.
sarah henry´s last [type] ..A Family Recipe Becomes a Business- Mamie &amp Makhi’s Sweet Potato Pie

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Nancie McDermott November 7, 2010 at 12:42 pm

Fantastic! What a wonderful story of an inspiring person, beautifully told. If she mails out those pies, I want a weekly pie-scription

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sarah henry November 7, 2010 at 3:05 pm

A pie-scription…now there’s an idea, Nancie. I’ll run it by Lois and get back to you.
sarah henry´s last [type] ..A Family Recipe Becomes a Business- Mamie &amp Makhi’s Sweet Potato Pie

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Melanie Haiken November 8, 2010 at 8:31 am

I love this story; it makes me want to try the pie filling, but even more to know this family! It’s really fun to buy food products that feel so personal and local. I hope they find an outlet here in Marin…. maybe that speciality food market over near Ross?

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Sarah Henry November 8, 2010 at 11:31 am

I’ll ask Lois about her plans to expand her distribution beyond the Berkeley-Oakland axis. What I love about these homegrown food businesses is they tend to start really small, hyper-local as folks say today, and then branch out over time.

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Lois November 8, 2010 at 12:06 pm

Wow! Thanks for all of the good words and sentiment towards my exciting endeavor. This product and process means so much to me and I am so delighted when people respond well to it. It is like giving tubs of sweet potato love everytime. For the comment about me making other products I plan on coming up with a pour and bake peach cobbler as well as a cheescake. I make many things from the batter and have just perfected a recipe for a small loaf with dried cranberries and walnuts in it. It works well as a coffee or tea cake too. Just met with my website guy and I look forward to having an interactive site to continue sweet discussions.

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Sarah Henry November 8, 2010 at 12:15 pm

Hi Lois,

Lots of peeps sound jazzed about your new product, don’t they?

Your future plans sound delicious too. Have just discovered, believe it or not, that not everyone knows about hyper-links (embedded in a story that you click on to go to another site). So, for folks who asked.

You can find Mamie & Makhi’s website here:
http://www.mamieandmakhis.com/

Or follow on Facebook:
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Mamie-Makhis-Sweet-Potato-Pie/283817180437

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Kris Bordessa November 8, 2010 at 8:46 pm

This sounds just divine. Truly. I live in Hawaii where we have Hawaiian sweet potatoes. They’re purple. This gives me the idea to try to make a Hawaiian sweet potato pie. Can you imagine how gorgeous it would be?

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Sarah Henry November 9, 2010 at 1:43 pm

Wow! That would look really wild, Kris. How do the purple sweet potatoes compare in taste and texture?

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