If you’ve been through the Leucadia Farmers Market or several others in the area lately, there is a good chance you’ve heard Thomas Crain describing the many delicious attributes of his sweet potato pies in his deep, silky voice. His techniques worked as I gravitated to his booth in Leucadia recently and picked up a couple of his fabulous sweet potato pies.
They are very similar to pumpkin pie in texture and taste but more nutritious and have a fascinating history that is worth reading up on.
I wanted to know more about Thomas, who is an Oceanside native, and his fabulous pies, so we connected recently over a Lick the Plate radio show on 101KGB. Below are some highlights from that conversation. Check out the radio interview at www.lick-the-plate.com.
LTP: Tell me about growing up in Oceanside.
Thomas: I remember when the roads weren’t paved as a child. My Uncle Wheeler & Aunt Eddie Johnson owned a soul food restaurant called The Progressive Cafe. It was located on San Diego Street that was the main street in the neighborhood. Their menu consisted of crispy fried chicken, rice and gravy, sweet corn and cornbread. They also had BBQ ribs, and a steak now and then. My aunt Eddie also made an awesome sweet potato pie. Don’t tell nobody, but Boo Boo’s is better!
LTP: Did you go to Oceanside High School?
Thomas: I went to Oceanside High school, 1967-1971, and participated in the boys’ glee club and the ensemble choir. In my final year I began hanging with the wrong crowd, I was behind academically so I took the GED test and entered the US Army. After my three years of military service. I came home and got a job as a government employee on Camp Pendleton. During this time, I also sang in several bands. One was called Zafire. We were an R&B band, singing around San Diego County.
LTP: What was the restaurant scene like in Oceanside back then compared to now?
Thomas: We weren’t wealthy, my father was a cook at the Naval Hospital on Camp Pendleton for 37 years. He also worked at a restaurant part-time in Carlsbad called The Twin Inns. He took each of us there to get a work ethic and make a few dollars. I used to eat at the Flying Bridge restaurant downtown Oceanside. I even had a job in junior high selling newspapers at 5:30 in the morning at the mess halls on Camp Pendleton. I would make a little money to take my girlfriend to the Star Theater in downtown Oceanside.
LTP: Describe the process of making a sweet potato pie.
Thomas: This may seem like a simple process but peeling and boiling potatoes, then mixing and blending the ingredients is actually an art. The love and passion my wife, Cynthia, aka Boo Boo, has mastered. Our main ingredients are yams, cinnamon, vanilla, sugar, nutmeg, salt, flour, sweetened milk, butter, eggs. These ingredients change slightly depending on type of sweet potato pies we’re producing. It took Boo Boo a few times good before she made that perfect one. When she did, I jumped out of my chair and I told her that was it!
Our business is 100% owned by Cynthia and me, and we have a longtime friend I grew up with on the streets of East Oceanside named Dana McCargo. She has assisted us in starting this business, and her title is secretary. She believed in our dream and vision and has been there from the start. She participated in a lot of our decision-making. Our goal is to share this pie in school lunches, sporting events, mini-marts, major grocery store chains. So spread the word, we got the Boo-Ba-Licious Sweet Potato Pies!
LTP: What varieties do your pies come in?
Thomas: As our business began to grow, we realized we had to expand our menu. So, after trying several different mixes, we made the perfect Vegan and then Gluten Free Vegan Sweet Potato Pie.
LTP: Tell me something that you like about each of the farmers markets that you are at.
Thomas: I sell my pies at four different farmers market locations. Oceanside Farmers Market is on Thursday morning. What I like about this market is its location right next to the library in the heart of downtown. It’s a tourist area — you can actually see the beach from the market.
La Mesa is my Friday market from 3 to 7. It’s fun because the people are nice, we’re right off La Mesa Boulevard in this big parking lot. But if you come there, you’ll find me jamming some James Brown, Earth Wind & Fire, Justin Bieber or Chris Brown.
Temecula Farmers Market is on Saturday morning, 8 to 12:30, right in the heart of Old Town. It’s my biggest market with a lot of restaurants. This market draws people from all over Riverside County. It is a tourist attraction with wine tasting nearby and parks in the area.
Leucadia Farmers Market is my Sunday morning Vegan Market. Located in Paul Ecke Elementary School, it’s quiet and relaxing. Won’t be any music playing, but I’ll serenade you as you walk by!
Find out more at www.booboospies.com.