Saturday, June 14, 2014

Chess Pie

My friend Gardner reminisced to me recently about much he loves Chess Pie but said he hasn't had it since college. That was a few decades ago so that must have been a darn good pie.

Gardner attended college in the South and would get to enjoy Chess Pie when he would go home from school with a friend on weekends.

 "His mom made the best Chess Pie," said Gardner who added that there was a bit of cornmeal in it, buttermilk, eggs and lemon, "but just a touch of lemon juice, not enough to make it a lemon pie." I told Gardner I was going to attempt to recreate the pie for him.

I've never eaten or made Chess Pie so I researched it on the internet and discovered that there are a lot of variations. Some had cornmeal and some didn't. Some used buttermilk and some used plain milk. Some used lemon juice and some used vinegar. Some used all white sugar and some used a combination of white and brown.

I was confused by all the recipes and decided I should just go for it and create one with cornmeal, buttermilk and a bit of lemon since that's what Gardner remembered.

There are also a variety of stories as to how Chess Pie got its name. The pie originated in England (my friend Teri told me she's bought mini Chess Pies at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival) and some say the word "Chess" is an "Americanization" of the English word "Cheese," because it is essentially a "Curd" pie.

My favorite story though is this one: Because the ingredients are so basic, Southern makers of it would say it's "Jes Pie," to those inquiring what it was and over time it became "Chess Pie".

So I got to work and made my first Chess Pie and I do have to say it is one of the easiest pies to put together and delicious. I liked it and so did my family. The texture was nice because of the contrast of the crisp browned-sugared top against the custard center.

The next day I delivered a big slice to Gardner and he tasted it and kindly gave me thumbs-up. When I pressed him for more details as to whether it was what he remembered he said it was "very close".

Oh how I wish I could get my hands on that original recipe. In the meantime, here's mine:

Chess Pie

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons cornmeal
4 large eggs, slightly beaten
1/3 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 9-inch unbaked deep-dish pie crust.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Combine the sugar and cornmeal. Add the eggs and buttermilk and mix well. Finally add the lemon juice, vanilla and sea salt. Whisk until well-blended.

Pour the mixture into the unbaked pie crust.

A Chess Pie ready to bake.
Bake for 3 minutes and then reduce the temperature to 350 degrees. Bake for 8 minutes and then reduce the temperature to 325 degrees. Bake for 40 minutes or until the center of the pie is set and the top is golden brown.

Turn off the oven and leave the pie to cool in the oven for 30 minutes.
The baked pie cooling in the oven.

Remove and let the pie cool completely before serving. Enjoy a slice with a cup of hot coffee.

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