Monday, May 07, 2007

Chess pie recipe

chess pieBaking has never been my strength. Perhaps it’s because I’m impatient or perhaps it’s because I have a hard time following directions, but when it comes to pastries, where precision is key, I leave those culinary tasks to the experts, namely my mom and my grandmother.

I’ve mentioned before my grandmother’s skill with pies. For as long as I can remember, I’ve stood by her side and watched her effortlessly roll out crusts and whip up fabulous fillings with seldom a measuring cup or spoon in sight. I’d like to have her ability as pies are one of my favorite desserts. But even when I use her recipes for guidance, mine always fall a bit short. Of course, with practice comes perfection. And if I had been baking pies for as long and as often as she has, I would probably be more proud of my efforts. But since I attempt one only a couple of times a year, I still have far to go in my pie-baking development.

chess pieYet despite my inability to bake the prettiest pie, I was inspired by the amazing Barbara from Winos and Foodies to at least endeavor to make a delicious one. Barbara is compiling a roundup of yellow foods for the Lance Armstrong Foundation’s Livestrong Day on May 16. And if you’re not already familiar with the Lance Armstrong Foundation, it’s a ten-year-old Texas-based organization created by the seven-time Tour de France winner and cancer survivor Armstrong. Its mission is to inspire and empower people with cancer towards surviving the disease through education, advocacy, public health initiatives and research.

But even though the foundation is American, as New Zealander Barbara noted, its work extends worldwide since, sadly, cancer has no boundaries. Armstrong’s cycling jersey is bright yellow, and that color has come to represent his foundation’s philosophy of living strong and putting up an aggressive fight against the disease, hence the yellow foods. Barbara herself is fighting cancer yet when you read her blog, you find a witty, positive, energetic and creative woman, not daunted by her adversity. She’s living strong and so the least I could do was try and make a yellow pie.

One of my favorite pies is chess pie, a lemony, custardy delight. It’s an old dish that is made with the simplest ingredients. Yet its humble origins belie the sweet and rich results. This is a pastry that harks back to my ancestors, and while the birth of its name is enshrouded in mystery, it doesn’t have anything to do with the game of kings. Instead, some say that it may be named after the town of Chester, England as its lineage goes back to classic English tarts, like the one Sam baked also for this event. Southern food historian John T. Edge has said, however, that the name could either hail from the word “chest” as in pie chest or that it’s a rendition of how a Southerner would sound if saying, “It’s jes pie.”

chess pieBut even if its name is a puzzle, there's nothing enigmatic about this pie's flavor: simply put, it tastes divine. And since half the ingredients—eggs, lemon juice and corn meal—are yellow, not to mention, there’s such comfort and warmth in a homemade slice of pie, I thought it would make a fine contribution to Barbara’s roundup of yellow treats. Now this isn’t diet food, but it is pure in its simplicity as it’s made with whole, fresh ingredients. And as my ancestors lived long lives eating dishes such as these, I could do worse than emulating some of their dining habits.

As you can see from the photos, the pie I baked won’t take the prize for looks. But what it lacks in beauty it more than makes up for in flavor. And after one creamy and bright bite, you’ll realize that this pie isn’t made for beholding, it’s made for devouring. So I tip my fork to the amazing women who came before me, and thank them for such a fantastic food heritage. And I also thank Barbara, whose great strength inspired me to tackle the minute challenge of baking a yellow chess pie.

Chess Pie

Ingredients for the pie crust:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup canola oil
2 tablespoons whole milk

Ingredients for the pie filling:
1 stick unsalted butter (113.4 grams)
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon yellow corn meal
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup freshly squeeze lemon juice)
1 teaspoon of lemon zest

To make the curst, whisk together the flour and salt. Mix the oil and milk together and then pour into the flour and stir until well combined. If it’s too dry, you can add more milk. Roll the crust out between two sheets of wax paper, and then line a pie pan with the crust.

Preheat the oven to 350° F.

To make the pie filling, on low heat melt the butter. Pour the butter into a mixing bowl and stir in the sugar. Beat the eggs with the corn meal, vanilla, lemon juice, and zest.

Add the egg mixture to the butter and sugar, and mix well. Pour the filling into the pie shell and bake for 50 minutes or until an inserted knife comes out clean.

Let cool for 20 minutes (so filling can set).

8 servings



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Pille said...

What a gorgeously yellow pie!! Tempting, especially with that curious name :)

Freya and Paul said...

I love the idea of cornmeal in the filling! Fabulous and a great entry for a great cause!

daesylady said...

Oh.... Chess pie! Definitely one of my all time favorites, I absolutely love this pie. I live in Minneapolis and no one up here has ever heard of it... I make it every Thanksgiving and win people over everytime they try it. Of course, they always think I'm saying Chest or Chestnut.. I just tell them to wait and taste it.

My recipe is pretty close to yours, but I do use a couple of Tablespoons of Buttermilk in mine.
Yours looks great! Now I want one.

eonyc said...

Oh man..I first tried this when I moved to Houston. LOVE it. I am going to have to try and make this.

I'm curious--what sort of camera do you use? Your shots are so crisp. I need to get a new camera and I want one known for taking great close-up shots.


Tim said...

I read "Cheese Pie" for some reason and got all excited. But this looks great just the same. Cornmeal in a pie. I assume that's a Texan thing. :)

Kalyn said...

I'm also seriously delayed in my baking development. This looks great; I'm sad I didn't manage to post anything for this event.

Sam said...

It looks and sounds great. Incidentally there is an English thing called Chester Cake which is itself another name for Bread pudding which is nothing like bread and butter pudding more ofen just called bread pudding in the US.

Clear as mud?

gilly said...

Gorgeous pie, Lisa! I love how so many of the ingredients are naturally yellow too... excellent entry!

Olivia said...

Mmm sweet lemoney corn meal sounds divine.

My mother used to fill a pie shell with custard, apple sauce and ground almonds. Yum indeed.

n. said...

The chess pie I know is totally and utterly different. More like a clearish pie. I'll try and dig up the recipe tonight.


Myanderings said...

Thanks for posting the pics of what will be my Mother's Day dessert. I love chess pie! My husband insists on coconut in his so I always make two - good thing we're having company. Thanks again.

Meeta said...

WOW! Besides this being a unique cake (for me) it looks wonderfully yellow. Just lovely!

Garrett said...

I love checking out all these variou syellow recipes for this event. I did a cupcake for it, but now rethinking it. I love this pie and would love to make a cupcake take on it!

As always, a wonderful post!

Joe said...

This sound fantastic - I'm also quite intrigued by the use of cornmeal!

Homesick Texan said...

Pille-Thanks! Yes, the name is curious, but it doesn't take away from the flavor!

Freya--I do too! It may seem odd, but it makes the pie all the more Southern for me.

Daesylady--I've seen recipes that add buttermilk, but that always confuses me as to where the line is drawn between chess pies and buttermilk pies--the two are very similar. Thanks for educating the people of MN about an excellent dessert.

Lori--It's super easy to make, the hardest part is rolling out the crust. As for my camera, I use a Nikon D200 with manual lenses that I've had forever. The lens I use most often (and for these photos) is an ancient macro 55m. It belonged to my grandpa, and he graciously "loaned" it to me when he switched to automatic lenses a few years ago.

Tim--That's funny that you thought "cheese" because there are some who think that the name might be a variation on that as well. Even though there's no cheese in the pie, just lots of dairy.

Kalyn--Thanks! Your such an accomplished cook I'm surprised that your not more of a baker.

Sam---Clear as mud....pie. And now I'm going to have to research this Chester Cake you speak of. I'm intrigued!

Gilly--Thanks, it's funny, I've been wanting to bake one of these for a while, and when I realized that yes, so many ingredients are yellow it seemed the timing was right!

Olivia--Oh, your mother's pie sounds delicious--I love the combination of the applesauce with the ground almonds. And if you see this, a reader was going on about how excellent the El Paso Cafe is in London. Have you tried it?

N.--I'm sure there are countless variations across the South, I'd love to see your recipe. Do you put vinegar in it? I know some people that do.

Myanderings--You're welcome. It's perfect for Mother's Day!

Meeta--Thanks! I reckon it's probably not very common over in Germany, but it's tasty nonetheless.

Garrett--Oh, you are such the cupcake master, I'd love to see how you transform this pie into one!

Joe--I think the cornmeal just adds a slight bit of texture and helps with thickening the custard. You really can't taste it.

Ivonne said...

I too am very intrigued by the cornmeal in the pie! And what a beautiful, bright colour.

I think your pie is perfect!

Kate said...

this is the best "a taste of yellow" entry i have seen so far.Love the bright yellows in your photographs.and a beautiful write up too.The pie looks just perfectly delicious.Thanks for sharing and helping create awareness.

Barbara said...

Lisa - that is such a gorgeous yellow pie. Thank you for supporting A Taste of Yellow and your kind words.

Sarah said...

HI - I recently found your blog and am enjoying the pics and the discussion of Texan food. I'm a northerner/midwesterner who is moving to Texas (Dallas or Fort Worth) this summer, so I'm trying to learn about my new local cuisine! I have a question that perhaps you can answer: I'm looking for good local Texas beers. I found some info about Texas wineries, but can't yet seem to figure out where the good local breweries are going to be. Any suggestions? (sdavissecord at yahoo dot com)

Olivia said...

El Paso cafe in London? Let's see. I Googled it and found it in a part of town I rarely go to, but I could persuade a Spanish-Aussie friend of mine to go with me sometime.

I also read reviews which said it was blander than the usual Tex Mex offerings, but everyone's taste is different.

I am now tempted to go on a Tex Mex cooking exploration of London.

christine (myplateoryours) said...

You've got a pie pan full of sunshine there! Lovely!

SteamyKitchen said...

a stick of butter + lemon + pie = something I'd eat anyday!

Homesick Texan said...

Ivonne--Wow! Many thanks!

Kate--Thanks! I love yellow, such a happy color.

Barbara--And a big thanks to you for hosting such an amazing event and being such an inspiration!

Sarah--There may be beers local to the DFW area I'm just not familiar with yet, but the beer that I consider the most Texan is Shiner Bock, which is brewed outside of Austin. Another great Texan beer is St. Arnold's, which is brewed in Houston.

Olivia--Hmmm, I guess you're right, to each his own!

Christine--Why thank you, what a lovely way of describing it!

SteamyKitchen--Everything's better with butter!

Emily said...

I'm not sure how i came across your blog, but i am sure glad that i did! I made this pie and your corn tortillas last night for quite an indulgent steak taco feast. Wow. everything turned out great! My family is from the panhandle of Texas and it is like you have dug right into the soul of my family's recipe box. Great stuff. Please keep it coming!

AnnieKNodes said...

Love your blog! Finally, a resource for chicken fried steak and my all-time Southern fave, Chess Pie.

I think you're selling yourself short. The pie looks gorgeous.

Julie said...

I've never had chess pie, only read about it. It sounds delicious and yours certainly looks delicious.

Homesick Texan said...

Emily--Welcome and thank you! I'm so happy you liked the recipes!

Annieknodes--Thank you! Nothing beats chicken-fried steak followed by a slice of chess pie.

Julie--If you like buttery, custardy, lemony desserts, you'll enjoy this!

WokkingMum said...

WOW! Your pictures make me hungry! They are beautiful!

Thanks for dropping by my blog. Can I link you?

Callie said...

I love chess pie. My grandmother has her own recipe that we make at least once or twice a year for family gatherings. Never tried corn meal in the filling though...

As for local beers, Sarah, Shiner would be the most famous one.

Other good locals include St. Arnold's Brewery out of Houston, Independence Brewery out of Austin, and Real Ale out of Blanco. Celis was a local brewery in Austin, but now I think it's made in Michigan: the Celis White is an excellent witbier though.

Oh, there's Lone Star out of San Antonio, too, but I wouldn't consider it "good". It's an inexpensive lager on par with a Bud or a Miller.

Homesick Texan said...

Wokkingmom--Thank you! And I'd be honored if you linked to the site.

Callie--You can't taste the cornmeal, but I think it help thicken the filling. And what a great list of beers! They're some I wasn't familiar with yet.

Glenna said...

that's one of my favorite pies too!

Homesick Texan said...

Glenna--Yep, it's good stuff!

Helen said...

The first time I had chess pie it was when my husband (boyfriend at the time) introduced me to his parents and his mom made it in true southern form, with cormeal inside. I have not seen or been able to get the recipe since, and boom there it is! I am really excited to be able to make it for him (Freudian lapse, I first wrote "for me",ahahah!!)

Scribbit said...

It looks like one big lemon bar. I love lemon bars.

Really I do.

Homesick Texan said...

Thanks, Michelle--it tastes like one too!

Céline-marine said...

I just discovered your blog while I was looking for typically Texas recipes, and I'm glad I did! I had to look what cornmeal and canola oil were though ;-) Cornmeal I can find in France (we all it polenta, like in Italy) but canola oil I'm not sure we have. I do have a rapeseed oil, but we are not supposed to use it for cooking, only seasoning (I guess it's not "double zeroed" enough). Can you think of another oil I could use instead?

Homesick Texan said...

Celine-Marine--I would use either a vegetable oil or a nut oil. Olive oil might provide an interesting flavor as well since it goes so well with lemon. Or you could just make your favorite recipe for pate brisee.

Céline-marine said...

Thank you so much for your quick feed back! I'll probably try olive oil then.


Anonymous said...

I am an East Texan. Your chess pie is just like my granmas' chess pie. Nothing wrong with your pies looks. It is the eating that counts. Love your site. Carol

Anonymous said...

I have a comment ............why is no one talking about soft peanut patties? As kids growing up in Abilene we ate these on a daily basis. Although there was a pink hard peanut patty, we always preferred the soft one. Do any of you former Texans rememeber these?

Anonymous said...

chess pie is my all time favorite pie. You can keep your maraines, chiffons, dutch,just give me good old Texas Chess Pie.

Latasha said...

Hello,Thanks for the recipe! I've live in Texas all my life and I hadn't known but one person that could make a good chess pie ( May she rest in peace).I got a similar recipe on line once and I mis-placed it after the holidays where over, so this holiday I got back online to search for another recipe. I went to various sites until I came across your recipe.It was just what I was looking for!Now this is what I call the real deal pie, and you are from Texas so you know how we feel about chess pie!

Anonymous said...

This IS a 'weird world' we live in - I made a Chess Pie (from scratch - no lemon just vinegar) last night and it was gone by noon today. Tonight I decided to look at someone else's recipe and SHA ZAAAMMMM I stumbled upon your blog!! By the way, I'm your next door neighbor and rival in ALL sporting events (Yooooooooo, Pig Sooie) heh. Your pie looks fantastic, I can hardly wait to search the rest of your site, thx so much for a SUPER blog!!

Anonymous said...

Can I just use a frozen pie crust for this pie instead of making my own?

Homesick Texan said...


Anonymous said...

Hi, My family, Texans all, have several recipes for chess pie and usually serve it at Thanksgiving along with pecan pie and sweet potato pie--all pies that can sit on the counter all day while folks sit around talkin' and eatin'. My great grandmother's recipe comes from her family in the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina, where cornmeal was always in the pie.

Since I love food history and culture, I did a bit of research and found some old recipes that folks might enjoy:
Mid 1700s - From the cookbook Martha Washington's Booke of Cookery, transcribed by Karen Hess:

To make very good chee[secakes without] cheese curd
Take a quart of cream, & when it boyles take 14 eggs; If they be very yallow take out 2 or 3 of the youlks; put them into [the] cream when it boyles & keep it with continuall stirring till it be thick like curd. [Then] put into it sugar & currans, of each halfe a pound; ye currans must first be plumpt in faire water; then take a pound of butter & put into the curd a quarter of [that] butter; [then] take a quart of fine flowre, & put [the] resto of [the] butter to it in little bits, with 4 or 5 spoonsfulls of faire water, make [the] paste of it & when it is well mingled beat it on a table & soe roule it out.. Then put [the] curd into [the] paste, first putting therein 2 nutmeggs slyced, a little salt, & a little rosewater; [the] eggs must be well beaten before you put them in; & for [your] paste you may make them up into what fashion you please..."

1877 - Estelle Woods Wilcox's 1877 cookbook called Buckeye Cookery, she includes a recipe for Chess Pie:

Chess Pie
Three eggs, two-thirds cup sugar, half cup butter (half cup milk may be added if not wanted so rich); beat butter to a cream, than add yolks and sugar beaten to a froth with the flavoring; stir all together rapidly, and bake in a nice crust. When done, spread with the beaten whites, and three table-spoons sugar and a little flavoring. Return to oven and brown slightly. this makes one pie, which should be served immediately.
- Miss J. Carson, Glendale.

And one final note--if you like chess pie, you might also love buttermilk pie, which was said to be a favorite of Davy Crockett.

Jay Castleberry said...

This makes one killer Chess Pie. I tried it a few weeks ago and it was wonderful. I had to find your blog again so I can make it again for Thanksgiving. Thanks for sharing it.

Robin said...

I thought that I just discovered you blog today but low and behold, as I was looking back at your older posts I came across this entry and realized I had been here before! After working with a Kentuckian I was on a search for a Transparent Pie recipe and kept coming up with chess pie recipes. I had never heard of either pie before working with Neal so I figured I would try both. I found the Transparent recipe and decided to use your Chess pie recipe. This was about 6 months ago. Well, my pies turned out wonderful and I LOVED your Chess pie! I can't believe I didn't look at your blog more but I guess I wasn't into blogs at the time. I since have discovered that there are some wonderful ones out there and they really help me to become a better cook. Thanks for your part of that equation.

Anonymous said...

This recipe has been in my family for 4-5 generations (maybe more). It was at one time called Vinegar Pie due to using vinegar in place of lemon-----a commom, available ingreident when lemons were not. My mother said a REAL CHESS PIE NEVER contained milk or cream (as you will find in some receipes)and ALWAYS has corn meal in it which gives it a bit of a golden crust on top. I am also a Kentuckian and both my husband and my family had Transparent pies (his very favorite) in our growing up years. Both have basic, common, inexpensive ingredients found on the farm. Beautiful pictures.

charly said...

My Kentucky grandmother and mother used to make Chess pie and I love it. The name they said came from the south, in which when someone
asked what kind of pie it was, the homemaker said "it(s)jes pie", (translation- its just pie) hence it-chess pie.

Anonymous said...

Wow, wish I had found this sooner. Chest Pie is my favorite of all pies. I hardly find it anywhere except homemade. Found one at a Luby's cafer in Texas and a Furr's Cafer in Texas. But seldom anywhere else but homecooked.

Only catch to me is Chest Pie by default means no lemon in it and if it has lemon then it is a Lemon Chest Pie. I prefer no lemon in it since I have a super sweet tooth and think the lemon cuts that a bit too much for me.

I have gotta try your recipe now. I love this blog site since it is about my favorite foods ... Texas foods.

Dr. Bubba

Jewlz said...

Hey, just found your site. I'm a Texan living in England, for the love of Pete, and I'm dying for good Tex-Mex. You've given me some great ideas here... and I haven't had chess pie in ages! Thanks for reminding me of all the good food I am missing... I will hang around here often, since I seem to like to punish myself. :)

Samantha said...

Hi Lisa! I made this for Thanksgiving the other day and it was very well received!

The only thing I wanted to add was that it didn't quite seem enough to fill a 9 inch pie plate. It was about 1 inch below what I'd expected it to be, which made for a rather odd looking finished pie. Nevertheless, the taste was fantastic!

Lisa (Homesick Texan) said...

Hi Samantha--I'm glad you liked the flavor. My pie pan is only 1-inch deep, were you using a deep-dish pie pan?

Samantha said...

It's not specifically a deep dish pan, it's just the normal 9in Pyrex glass pie pan. But I think it's about 1.5 inches deep, and the filling was probably only about 0.5 inches too low. So that makes sense!

I will keep your dimensions in mind the next time I make it - and I will, because it was the very definition of cheap and cheerful! :)

r3 said...

Your recipe is like the one I use--only difference is mine calls for vinegar rather than lemon. Awesome pie.

Have you ever tried a Sugar Cream Pie? I think it's popular in Indiana --going to have to make one soon.

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