Chess pie DSC 2015

Chess pie recipe

Baking 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 pie | Homesick Texan

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. 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 pie | Homesick Texan

But 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 a 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 whose great strength inspired me to tackle the minute challenge of baking a yellow chess pie.

5 from 2 votes

Chess pie

Servings 8
Author Lisa Fain


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
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon yellow corn meal
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeeze lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest


  • To make the crust, 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).

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  1. Anonymous says:

    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.

  2. Jay Castleberry says:

    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.

  3. 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.

  4. Anonymous says:

    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.

  5. 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.