What started out as a hobby of making homemade pies to bring to dinner parties as hostess gifts in lieu of the traditional bottle of red has turned into a big business here in lower Fairfield County over the past several years.
Lulu Morgan has been whipping up scrumptious treats for decades, having learned the sacred art of southern cooking growing up in her hometown of Memphis, TN.
"It just kind of happened," Morgan said, as she stood in the kitchen at her antique farmhouse on June Road, near the Greenwich-Stamford border.
After friends began tasting her chess pies -- a custard-like pie popular in the South, which Morgan said earned its name when a southern belle's accent was misunderstood after announcing it was "just pie" -- word spread quicker than cream cheeze. She began selling her pies at a farmers market in the Rowayton section of Norwalk, where she flew a banner that read "Lulu's Southern Pies," and brought along 20 pecan and 20 chess pies each week, only to sell out in a few minutes.
"I've been selling these pies like you would not believe," Morgan said. "I've added a key lime pie, which has been very, very successful, and I'm going to add a sweet potato pie and a coconut cream pie."
Soon, one farmers market wasn't enough. Now she serves them up for $20 apiece at the Old Greenwich Farmers Market, as well as markets in Fairfield, Newtown and Rowayton. And then there are the stores: Pasta Vera and Greenwich Prime Meats in Greenwich, as well as Village Market in Wilton and Walter Stewart's in New Canaan. These days, she's turning out 200 pies a week.
"Last Thanksgiving, I made 500 pies," she said, adding that she's on track to see that kind of demand again this year.
The secret, she said, is in the little details and recipe tweaks she has added over the years, like the pecans she sources from a plantation in Alabama. She won't go into more detail on what sets her pies apart than that -- it's a secret recipe, after all. But a forkful of the pecan reveals a comforting kick of chocolate tempered by the nuts, and a crust straight out of grandma's kitchen.
They're not quite homemade these days, since health codes dictate that Morgan prepares her desserts in a commercial kitchen. But she's careful to keep that home-style quality, even as her quantities increase.
"People have told me that I should go on `Shark Tank,' " Morgan said, referring to the ABC TV show where entrepreneurs pitch their products and businesses to a group of investors.
"But I don't need to be that big," she continued. "When you go from everything being homemade by me, like they are now, to becoming too big, you lose that quality, and that's important to me."
For now, the 70-year-old grandmother said she's more interested in baking pies that make people smile than turning into a pie-making machine.
"At this age, I'm just happy making my pies," she said.