Sweet Potato Sweets Life is sweet in Vardaman, and it’s not just because of the town’s Southern hospitality. Vardaman has long been called the Sweet Potato Capital of the World, and many residents have been growing sweet potatoes for four and five generations. In 1996, the wives of three Vardaman sweet potato growers set out to share the goodness of Vardaman sweet potatoes with the world. “About 20 years ago, the farmers’ wives would go to farm shows and bring along their homemade sweet potato pies, cakes and breads, so people could sample them,” says Judy Holder, manager at Sweet Potato Sweets bakery in Vardaman. “They wanted people to become more aware of how great sweet potatoes taste, and how versatile and nutritious they are.” Sweet Potato Sweets

Sweet Potato Sweets

The women opened Sweet Potato Sweets bakery and began creating scrumptious pies and other treats made from the sweet potato – a primary source of income for many Vardaman residents. “When they had the idea of selling sweet potato pies in Vardaman, people said it would never work because this is a sweet potato town. All the locals have their own family recipe for sweet potato pie,” Holder says. “But it worked, and we now sell more than 40 different food items containing sweet potatoes.” The bakery started in a small, two-room block building on the outskirts of town. It quickly outgrew that space, as well as a second, larger location. Today, Sweet Potato Sweets occupies its third and largest building in the heart of Vardaman. Two of the original owners – Daphna Cook and Karen Wright – still own the business, and their husbands, Paul Cook and Randle Wright, continue to provide sweet potatoes for all their baking needs. “The sweet potato bread was very popular from the beginning, as well as the sweet potato pie, which we make in large 9-inch and small 3-inch sizes,” Holder says. “The recipes we use belonged to family members of the owners, and other recipes we’ve developed over the years by accident. Some we’ve had to perfect over the years with trial and error.” Another item in high demand is the Sweet Potato Log Roll, a cake-like bread rolled with a cream cheese filling inside. Holder says it’s like a pumpkin log roll, “only better tasting.” Sweet potato fudge, muffin tops, cheese straws, bonbons, quiche, butter, salsa, marmalade and pancake mix are also among their offerings. Their process begins when sweet potatoes are delivered to the bakery, usually 20 to 40 bushels at a time. “We hand-peel them, cut them into slices and cook them until tender in a large pot,” Holder says. “Then they are pureed until they’re smooth and fluffy. We freeze the sweet potato puree and take it out as needed for our recipes.” Sweet Potato Sweets’ pies are unusual because they are slow- cooked, and they don’t add many spices, so the true sweet potato flavor shines. “We’ve had people come in and say, ‘You can’t beat my grandmother’s pie,’ ” Holder says. “And we aren’t trying to – we’re just here to make a great pie. But then they come back a day later and say, ‘It came pretty close.’ ” Sweet Potato Sweets

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Sweet Potato Festival

Sweet Potato Sweets draws customers from all over the country, and far-away customers can order treats through their website year round. But their busiest sales week by far is during Vardaman’s annual Sweet Potato Festival every November. “Between 18,000 and 20,000 people come to the Sweet Potato Festival, so it turns out to be a great sales week for us,” Holder says. “We have our business open, and we also set up a table downtown where we sell our cookies, yum-yums, breads, pies, cakes, sausage balls and sweet potato casseroles.” The festival includes arts and crafts, a 5K run/walk, antique tractor judging, a sweet potato tasting booth, a sweet potato pie eating contest, a barbecued chicken dinner, and the Sweet Potato King and Queen Contest. It’s a highly anticipated event that makes Vardaman residents proud. “I was born and raised among sweet potatoes,” Holder says. “And I love providing a service for people who enjoy good food that’s also good for you.”

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