Creamy and a little bit tangy, this Chess Pie evokes memories of days gone by. It’s super simple to make and kids love it!
On Sundays after church, I used to go to my friend Patricia’s house to play. Her parents would read the Sunday newspaper, and Patricia and I would fight over the “funnies.” Then we’d run outside and wade in the creek below her house. But the thing I looked forward to almost as much as spending time with my friend was her mom’s chess pie.
Miss Patsy would cut us a slice of chess pie—a smooth, creamy, custardy concoction that literally melted in your mouth except for the flaky pie crust that gave it just enough crunch to keep it interesting. And if we were really lucky, she would have a chocolate chess pie.
There are many stories about the origin of the name “chess pie.” One says the name evolved due to the similarity to the English lemon curd pie, also called lemon cheese, with chess being the Americanized form of cheese. Another story suggests the name evolved because the pie doesn’t need refrigeration and could be stored in a pie chest, hence the name “chest pie,” which became chess pie.
A pie chest was a cabinet in a cool location that could hold pies like apple or cherry or one made with enough sugar that it preserved itself. My great-grandmother had one which we called a pie safe rather than pie chest. And although the pie is not necessarily a Southern-only dish, it seems to be more prevalent in the South.
I don’t have Miss Patsy’s recipe, but most chess pie recipes are about the same. The one I make is a conglomeration from a couple of different old church cookbooks, with some changes of my own thrown in. I use only brown sugar rather than just white or a mix of the two.
And I don’t use buttermilk as it changes the texture and taste in a way that I don’t like. The wonderful simplicity of this pie is that everything is mixed in one bowl and you don’t even need the hand mixer. Just use a whisk and then pour into the dish.
Start by melting a stick of butter, then add brown sugar. Whisk together until smooth, then add the rest of the ingredients and whisk all together.
Pour the batter into a 9-inch pie crust—it’s important to use a regular 9-inch pie dish, not a deep dish as the pie will turn out too thin.
Pop it into the oven for about 45 minutes, until the pie is set and the top is golden brown. You may need to place some foil over the edges of the pie crust to prevent too much browning. Once you remove the pie from the oven, let it set for a bit and then slice and serve.
The pie should have a slightly crunchy top and a soft custard-like middle. It’s a simple pie that you can make on a weeknight that tastes like a Sunday afternoon picnic down by the creek. Try it and make some memories today.
- 1 stick unsalted butter melted
- 1 cup light brown sugar
- 3 eggs
- 1 tablespoon cornmeal
- 1 tablespoon white vinegar
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Preheat oven to 350.
- Add brown sugar to melted butter and whisk until smooth. Add the rest of the ingredients to the brown sugar and whisk until smooth.
- Pour into 9-inch pie crust, not a deep dish. Bake 45-50 minutes until pie is set and doesn't jiggle.