One of my earliest memories is going to the Carrboro Farmers’ Market and eating Miss Louise’s miniature sweet potato pies underneath the big elm tree by Town Hall. The farmers market was a big part of my childhood.
My parents, brother and I would go there every Saturday morning. After eating our pies, we would go inside the fire station where we visited with the firefighters and eventually got to know them all by name. They would let me climb up and pretend to drive the fire trucks, and would often have a sticker or a booklet or something else that would be exciting to a 2- or 3-year-old.
There was one year when there was a trolley that started at the farmers market. It would casually make its way through downtown Carrboro. It was always a nice, peaceful ride, until one Saturday when we had a substitute driver. He sped through town, taking curves at high speeds and slamming on the brakes, almost throwing us to the floor. We eventually found out from a different driver that this man was used to driving inebriated passengers to and from football games.
We would often get fresh fruits and vegetables from the wide assortment of stands, and our closets are full of cedar shoe racks and coat hangers from Dan Graham.
Every holiday season, we have gone to the farmers market to get our Christmas wreaths from Pam Oakley, who weaves them together in her very distinct, beautiful way.
A more recent addition to our farmers market rounds has been a friend of my father’s, Stanley Hughes, who farms the hundred-year-old Pine Knot Farms north of Hillsborough in Hurdle Mills. He keeps us stocked with sweet potatoes that we all enjoy, and kale which my mother enjoys.
But the longstanding part of our Saturday routine has been getting the miniature sweet potato pies from Louise Parrish. The fourth-eldest of 15 children, she is 75 years old and has been selling baked goods at the Carrboro Farmers’ Market for many years since moving back to North Carolina from Massachusetts in 1986.
We still try to get by when we can to pick up a pie, though I’ve outgrown the miniature ones – I could easily sit under that elm tree and eat an entire pecan pie. Just recently when we went by, I asked her a little bit about what she does. We got to talking and she gave me some good advice.
First off, she said, “If you go into any kind of business, make sure you give people your best.”
She has put a lot of effort into finding the best ingredients for all of her recipes, as she orders her pecans from Georgia and buys her butter from Maple View Farm.
She never alters anything about her recipes without telling her customers. She says that it is best to “make things the same way. If you change something, tell people. Business can go down real quick if you change and don’t tell people. Doctors are the same way. They should keep the same people working for them. If you have good employees, you have to treat them right.” She’s grooming her nephew Jonathan to perhaps take over her stand one day so she can stay at home and bake full time.
She also says that, “It’s better to pay a little more for good, quality ingredients. You (the customers) pay a little more, but it’s good.”
Miss Louise told me that she went to a small business class at Durham Tech, but I can’t imagine that there was anything she didn’t already know. She has a good basic philosophy: “If I don’t want it myself, I won’t make it and give it to you.” If you haven’t tried any of “Louise’s Old Fashioned Baked Goods,” she’ll be waiting for you on Saturday.
Lucas Selvidge is a 12th-grader at Carolina Friends School. He can be reached in c/o The Chapel Hill News at firstname.lastname@example.org.