Flavor, Love of Community and “Nacho Mama’s Pies”

By Greg Ritchie

Messenger Reporter

CROCKETT – You may have seen their bright orange trailer parked in downtown Crockett, along South Fourth Street or at one of the area festivals. Always a line and always a little wait – once you’ve tasted some of the unique pies Jo Denman and daughter Tiffany Qualls create, you’ll never think of fried pies the same again. 

From savory – cheeseburger, pizza, chicken with spinach, jalapeño bacon – to sweet – peach, apple, coconut, chocolate – along with a lemon graham pie too tasty for a simple reporter’s vocabulary – no one leaves with an empty stomach or a sad face. 

Denman greets every customer by name and from the heart, knowing many for years and chatting with them about what’s going on in Crockett and in the world. You’ll know you’re a local when she can predict your order, but will always recommend something to match whatever you’re in the mood for. 

Living in Crockett for over 20 years, her love of cooking came naturally, from her mom and learning to cook for a big crowd. 

“My mom had ten children and four were girls, and we girls were always with mom in the kitchen,” Denman remembered. “My homemaking teacher Claudia Cunningham touched my life with the things she taught me, like etiquette, manners, how to set a table and serve people. So I feel like I’ve always been a server. We served the teachers on their lunch break and they would leave tips for us.”

Cooking is one thing, but creating a business from fried pies and finding the exact combination of flavors is another. Daughter Tiffany began cooking samosas, with Denman whipping up her sweet pies. The two got their start in 2017 at Christmas in Crockett.

“We started getting ideas for different ingredients but we had no idea how we would make it happen. All we had was a vision. Like it says in Proverbs, ‘Where there’s no vision, the people perish.’ The key word to us was ‘vision.’ You have to have a vision and we started with that,” Denman said.

Jo Denman and her Scrumptious Fried Pies trailer on South Fourth Street in Crockett. 

Eventually acquiring the trailer to be able to take their creations wherever they were needed, Denman is proud of the product, proud of the reputation they have in the community for being good people with a golden touch for cooking. 

“Everybody’s taste buds are different, so our thing is to try to make the taste buds sing,” Denman explained “We had a an idea for a pie because peanut butter and chocolate naturally go together. Blueberry? Okay, that’s clean. Let’s add some cream to it. It was these ideas that bring those flavors together.

Voodoo pies with cajun spices to the, “Pop Your Mama” pie, filled with shredded chicken, jalapeño cream cheese, cheddar cheese and bacon bits, the creative pies have earned a reputation for being one-of-a-kind.

Sixth-grade Jo Denman learning to serve customers and her community.

Wanting to do more than just feed bellies, Denman wanted to feed the soul and the community spirit, too, saying she wanted to try and create a community God would be proud of. For the third year in a row, Denman is organizing a pop-up market just in time for Easter. 

Crockett Community Empowerment (CCE) will hold the event Saturday, Mar. 30 at the pavilion in Davy Crockett Park. You can expect entertainment from food trucks and vendors to an Easter fashion and talent show. There will be scholarships and a single mom scholarship awarded, too, as part of giving back to the community. The fun will begin at noon and was recently awarded hotel-occupancy-tax funds from the county. 

The fun will begin at 12 p.m. and you can contact Jo herself to get more information. They can always use more vendors or help with scholarship funds. 

Thinking this might be a scoop for The Messenger, Denman was asked what exactly is the secret to making a great fried pie. 

“The secret to a good pie is: I can’t tell you.” Denman laughed. 

Locals will just have to line up and enjoy them like the rest of us, as the family secret stays hidden. 

Greg Ritchie can be reached at [email protected]

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