Try Navy Bean Pies at These Black-Owned Bakeshops in the Bay Area
This Black Muslim dish has a rich history and is perfect for Thanksgiving.
Oakland local Zakiyyah Shaheed-Muhammad grew up eating sweet navy bean pies, often from fellow mosque-goers who sold pies after service. When in-person services ceased during 2020 due to the pandemic, Zakiyyah was at a loss as to where to find them. Her husband, Carlton Shaheed-Muhammad, started asking if she could make bean pies to satisfy his pandemic comfort food cravings. After looking for recipes on YouTube, Zakiyyah remembered that her mother had recipes, and chose one basic bean pie to modify to her liking. After a couple of weeks of experimenting in the kitchen, and rave reviews from family and friends, Baby Bean Pie was officially born in September 2020.
Bean pie, you say? Usually made with warming spices, sugar, eggs, and milk, the taste of bean pie is akin to pumpkin or sweet potato pie. However, bean pies—navy bean pies, specifically—hold special meaning for Black Muslims of the Nation of Islam (NOI), who follow a pork-free diet that limits refined carbohydrates and encourages healthful eating. The navy bean—high in fiber, protein, other nutrients, and with ancient origins—was the affordable star of this diet, whether in a navy bean soup or a pie. Navy bean pies made their way onto NOI member-owned restaurant menus, and young NOI men selling bean pies on sidewalks became common in cities like Detroit, Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles.
Like other foods that evolve over time, the navy bean pie now varies from region to region and from family to family. They’ve gotten sweeter over time, with new expressions that opt for other legumes like pinto beans, and have even entered pop culture. “You’ll hear artists and TV shows like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air refer to bean pies…even Martha Stewart has tried to make a bean pie,” says Carlton.
As for Zakiyyah’s version, she says, “I have a very specific taste I remember from my childhood. It’s creamy on the inside, with the spices very smooth and settled on top. The texture should be soft, not too firm…When you slice into the pie, you want to see the layers.” She uses honey instead of sugar as part of her own spin, and is insistent upon using dried beans, never canned.
Other Baby Bean Pie goods incorporating navy beans are not traditional Black Muslim dishes, but rather extensions of Zakiyyah’s creativity. The Baby Bean Cream Cake is a cheesecake filling inside a graham cracker crust, topped with the signature bean pie custard. The Navy Bean Loaf is a bean cake covered in coconut cream cheese frosting.
A member of the new Black Culinary Collective in Oakland, founded by Reign Free of The Red Door catering company, Baby Bean Pie is steadily growing, recently becoming available at Community Foods in West Oakland. The Shaheeds are looking to expand to more grocery stores and restaurants, as well as more collaborations with food companies that share their principles, like the current collaboration with IntegriTea. The couple wants to eventually open a storefront.
In the meantime, the Shaheeds are happy to collaborate with fellow Black-owned bake shops across the Bay Area, many of whom have acted as mentors along the way. Here are just a few of their favorites, including those that specialize in bean pies, as well as other desserts that are popular within Black communities.
Delightful Foods is most well-known for the No Cookie, a delicious vegan cookie developed in the 1990s that was way ahead of its time. “It’s the best vegan cookie I’ve ever had,” says Zakiyyah. Delightful Foods also sells bean pies and other baked goods. Having been around for 40 years, the bakery was across the street from the mosque Zakiyyah grew up with, and owner Bilal Sabir has become a mentor to Baby Bean Pie.
How to order: Online, and at various Bay Area farmers markets and grocery stores.
“I’ve had personal conversations with them and they’ve taught me a lot about networking,” says Carlton of PaPa’s Bean Pies. He says if Baby Bean Pie didn’t exist, PaPa’s would be his favorite. With one type of bean pie offered in different sizes, the website proclaims, “Even people who don’t like beans love PaPa’s Bean Pies.”
How to order: Online or in grocery stores throughout the East Bay.
Pound cake is a long-time culinary fixture in Black communities, and three-year-old Pound Bizness continues this tradition. Also part of Black Culinary Collective, Pound Bizness is a dessert exception to Zakiyyah’s low sugar rule. From classic to strawberry lemonade to seasonal pumpkin spice flavors, owners (“couplepreneurs”) Nicole Felix and Reggie Borders offer their cakes by the whole, half, and slice sizes.
How to order: Online, by appointment at The Red Door catering kitchen, or at various markets and restaurants in the East Bay.
“My top [bakery] of all of them: my mom’s bakery,” says Zakiyyah, paying respect to the woman who gave her the navy bean pie recipe and a love of baking. Mother Nurture’s offers whole wheat rolls, loaves, and cookies, all made in small batches for an artisanal quality. The home-based cottage company’s products are available through Baby Bean Pie. A new social media page will be debuting soon, as well as plans to expand to farmers markets throughout the Bay Area.
How to order: Through the Baby Bean Pie website, or at the Baby Bean Pie booth at market appearances