WPHS ‘Pumpkin Chef’ pushing pies
WHEELING — Issak Nizami was never a fan of pumpkin pie as a young child. For him the problem was the pumpkin — or rather, the type of pumpkin.
He thinks it was the canned pumpkin that turned him off. But at age 10, he had an idea.
“I really didn’t like other people’s pumpkin pies. So I thought why not make them from real pumpkins?” he said.
He wondered if the secret to baking the best pumpkin pie was using the flesh from fresh pumpkins. Since then he has been adjusting his recipe, cooking down the pumpkin flesh with spices and baking it into a graham cracker crust.
Now 14, Nizami is an honors student at Wheeling Park High School, a top cross country runner, and a young entrepreneur, selling his pumpkin pies. He began taking his pies to family and friends parties last year.
Word that it was an exceptional dessert sprinted out of the box, and people began asking that he make his pies available for sale.
Nizami sold his first pumpkin pie last year to his cross country coach Jacob Galik after his father Saleem Nizami told him about them.
“He (Galik) liked it a lot,” he said. “He said it was his favorite he has ever eaten. He ordered again this year.”
Nizami is selling pumpkin pies through his mother Denitra Nizami’s Facebook page, but securing the pumpkins needed to make his creations has been a challenge.
His grandmother, Marquerite Davis, sprung into action and began to contact local farms seeking pumpkins. She was able to purchase 45 from Janoski Farms in Clinton, Pennsylvania.
Most pumpkins — depending on their — size make 1.5 to 2 pies, according to Denitra Nizami. The smaller ones are more desirable for making pies.
He hasn’t tried to grow his own pumpkins, however. Nizami said he is “not much of a gardener.”
Denitra Nizami said her son first showed an interest in baking pumpkin pies when he was 10 years old.
“When he realized that the recipe called for cans of pumpkin he looked at the mush in the can and couldn’t do it,” she explained. “He wanted to make a ‘real’ pumpkin pie with pie pumpkins. And so his quest began. He has tweaked the recipe many times over the past several years to get it just right.”
Nizami’s pies are baked the day before delivery.
His school day at WPHS begins at 7:25 a.m. and lasts until 2:30 p.m. He runs with the boys until about 4 p.m. After homework and dinner, he starts the next day’s pies and often bakes up until 11 p.m. depending on the number of orders.
After a customer asked if he would deliver the pie to a loved one at Peterson Rehabilitation Center, Nizami decided that he would make a homemade card and deliver it to anyone who is shut in or is in a nursing home or rehabilitation center.
Nizami isn’t opposed to a career as a baker.
“I have been making money. If it keeps going… there could be a future in it I could look into,” he said.
For now, Nizami intends to tithe his earnings from his pies to his home church, The Vineyard Church of Wheeling.
Nizami has always been a 4.0 student since kindergarten, his mother reports. Last year, he spent seven months homeschooling his younger brother Koda while his parents worked. He has also been a winner every year since fourth grade in the Ohio County Schools Math Field Day competition, and has been a state winner.
This past summer, he hosted a math camp for younger students after other programs had ended.
Nizami also recognizes his family’s help in preparing the pumpkin pies.
Older brother Jonah — a WPHS senior and cross-country team member — does much of the shopping and delivery. Mom Denitra coordinates orders, deliveries and pick-ups, while dad Saleem helps each day with sanitizing the prep and cooking areas.
Grandma Marguerite continues to scour the tri-state area for more pumpkins to fill orders, while his other grandma Ghazala Nizami makes sure that not a drop of precious pumpkin is wasted and that seeds are planted or cooked.
Even little brother Koda gets into the act by taste-testing and loading the dishwasher, according to Saleem Nizami.
Isaac Nizami doesn’t expect to be able to offer pumpkin pies at Christmas time due to pumpkin supply limitations, but he is considering the possibility of creating another dessert for the weeks before Christmas.
Those wishing to order pies may do so by messaging Denitra Nizami through her Facebook page, or calling or texting 814-244-2567.