Friday, January 15, 2010

Friday is PIE DAY!

There are many versions of the classic Southern chess pie, and I have made quite a few of them over the years.   It is a very basic pie, consisting of some combination of eggs, sugar, butter, and a bit of cornmeal (instead of flour or cornstarch) for thickening.  This latest one caught my eye, because in addition to the usual filling, it also has a crumbly topping made from more sugar and more butter-who could resist?

Every time I see a recipe for chess pie, it usually includes some tidbit about the origin of the name.  There seem to be two stories that crop up most often.  The first is that the name is just a shortened version of the word "chest", in reference to the fact that this pie kept well in a pie chest or safe.  The second, and the one that I love, has it's basis in the fact that is such a simple pie with few ingredients.  This is an amazingly tasty pie, despite the fact that all of the ingredients are usually on hand.  When the cooks were asked what kind of pie this was, they would demurely reply, "Oh, it's nuttin' fancy-'jes pie." In fact, I have to confess that this is another reason that I made this pie today-pure laziness-I had all of the ingredients here.

If you're still a bit scared of pie baking, this would be a great one to start with.  It is a one bowl, one crust recipe (you could even used a premade crust, ya know-I won't tell).
just blend the ingredients....

....pour into the shell...

.....and bake.  The baked filling turns this rich,lovely yellow.

The finished product has that gorgeous creamy yellow filling with a
crusty, crunchy, sugary, buttery goodness on top.
I just had a taste still warm from the oven, and it is mighty tasty for 'jes pie.

Chess Pie
from 'pie,pie,pie-easy homemade favorites' by John Phillip Carrol

1/2 c brown sugar
1 T chilled unsalted butter
1/2 t ground cinnamon

4 eggs, at room temperature
1 c sugar
3 T cornmeal
1 T plus 1 t cider vinegar
1/4 t salt
10 T unsalted butter, melted
1 t vanilla

-Preheat the oven to 350. Roll out single crust and fit into 9 inch glass pie pan
-To make the topping, combine the sugar, butter, and cinnamon in a small bowl.  Using your fingertips, rapidly rub the ingredients together until the butter is evenly blended into the sugar.  Set aside.
-To make the filling, in a medium bowl combine the eggs, sugar, cornmeal, vinegar, salt, butter, and vanilla and whisk until smooth and blended.  Pour into the prepared pie shell.
-Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the filling is softly set but the center is still quite trembly.  Carefully remove the pie from the oven and sprinkle with the topping. 
-Return to the oven and bake for about 10 minutes longer, or until the filling is more firmly set and the topping has melted.
-Serve warm or at room temperature

*One note about this recipe.  I just could not bring myself to put the entire bowl of topping onto the pie-the additional 1/2 cup of brown sugar seemed a bit out of control to me.  So, I sprinkled just about 1/2 the total topping onto the pie, and it seems to be plenty. 


  1. I would've added the extra brown sugar! Hee hee! This looks yummy. I have never had Chess Pie.

  2. I've never had this either, it looks like such a great homey pie- the cornmeal is such an interesting ingredient...I will have to try it!

  3. I love Pie Day. Love it.
    What does the cornmeal do to the texture? Do you ever make Lemon Chess?
    I find I can leave out half or 2/3 of the sugar in most "vintage" pie recipes and get very yummy, plenty sweet results. Though, like Cara, I'm just as likely to dump it all on ;)

  4. I have made different versions of chess pie before, and sometimes the cornmeal is too gritty-I was wary of this one because it actually has more cornmeal than most other chess pie recipes, but this is not gritty at all. The cornmeal acts as a thickener instead of the usual cornstarch, flour or tapioca, and in this case it gives the pie that wonderful yellow color. Lisa, chess pies often have lemon in this one, but this one had vinegar instead, and I like it better, I think. Cara-I know you think you'd like all the sugar on top, but trust me, it would be like biting into a fork full of brown sugar, and I think you would not even realize that you were eating pie. Restraint, in this case, was a very good thing.
    Try this one-you'll love fact, I'm making a another one today because this one is already gone! (don't worry-we shared)

  5. This looks delicious! Such a nice, simple recipe with things that I always have on hand. We will have to make this one soon, I think.

    Pie Day rocks!

  6. Hi Christine,
    I had your chess pie at the Waverly House event yesterday. It was exceptional and now I can't wait to make it myself WITH the cranberries! Thanks for posting!