Chess pies are a Southern specialty that has a simple filling of eggs, sugar, butter, and a small amount of flour. Some recipes add cornmeal and others include vinegar. Flavorings, such as vanilla, lemon juice, or chocolate are also added to vary the basic recipe.
When I asked my southern-born husband if his Granny made Chess Pie he said “definitely not, never heard of it.” At that point this Yankee cook and her chief culinary expert were on the same level playing field. I’ve never heard of it or eaten it until … I came to Tennessee!
When my Floridian, Pennsylvania-born friend, Phyllis, came to visit she immediately exclaimed “where can I get some Chess Pie? It is my favorite!”
I love coming to Tennessee so I can eat Chess Pie! For a week we ate in various restaurants, local cafes, and even at my house. No chess pie for Phyllis.
It was the day before she and my friend Kathy were leaving to continue their fall driving vacation. I woke up at 4 a.m. That isn’t unusual for me. And most generally it means I have something to do. On this particular morning I ran through my mental “to-do” list and was satisfied I did not have any pressing activity calling my name.
WRONG. Chess Pie. As I pulled the covers up tight and rolled over to sleep a few more hours I heard Phyllis saying, “where can I get some Chess Pie, it is my favorite!”
I really should have called this guess pie because guess what? I got up at 4:05 in the morning, fired up the computer, Googled a few recipes and found just the right one. How did I know it was the right one? Because Phyllis had told me that “true” chess pie included cornmeal and vinegar in the list of ingredients.
When the ladies came in from our little guest cabin for breakfast, this pie (and one more) was cooling on the counter. Phyllis squealed with delight! The second pie was delivered to my neighbor later that morning.
The origin of the name, Chess Pie, is uncertain, but there are plenty of guesses and a bit of folklore surrounding the name. My favorite is about the plantation cook who was asked what she was baking that smelled so great – “Jes’ pie” was her answer.
The recipe I used came from My Recipes.com and was featured in Southern Living March 2000. I made one change that we all think is a keeper. The recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of white vinegar. I happen to have Coconut flavored vinegar that came from a specialty olive oil and vinegar shop in Florida. I had never used it and now know that it was made for chess pie! It adds a fantastic light, rich, slightly coconut flavor. Oh my word, you have just got to try this.
This pie is not eggy. It is sweet, rich, custard with a crunchy crust (from the cornmeal.)
With Thanksgiving just around the corner — it’s pie time!
1 Chronicles 29:11-13
11 Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. 12 Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. 13 And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name.
- 1 9" round pie crust
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 tablespoons cornmeal
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup butter or margarine, melted
- ¼ cup milk
- 1 tablespoon white vinegar or coconut flavored vinegar*
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
- Fit piecrust into a 9-inch pieplate according to package directions; fold edges under, and crimp.
- Line pastry with aluminum foil, and fill with pie weights or dried beans.
- Bake at 425° for 4 to 5 minutes. Remove weights and foil; bake 2 more minutes or until golden. Cool.
- Stir together sugar and next 7 ingredients until blended. Add eggs, stirring well. Pour into piecrust.
- Bake at 350° for 50 to 55 minutes, shielding edges with aluminum foil after 10 minutes to prevent excessive browning. Cool completely on a wire rack.
- Serve at room temperature, plain or with whipped cream
- Refrigerate leftovers.
Optional: Coconut Chess Pie: Prepare filling as directed above; stir in 1 cup toasted flaked coconut before pouring into piecrust. Bake as directed above.
Recipe adapted from Southern Living 2000.