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~ My Southern Favorite: Jeanne White's Chess Pie ~

6a0120a8551282970b019affeb653d970cWhat does a gal from Central Pennsylvania know about Southern chess pie?  More than you might think.  When I was growing up in Hometown, (Eastern) PA, my close high school friend, Susie White, lived over on Meadow Avenue.  We spent so much time hanging out at each others houses, our mothers didn't ask, "is Susie staying for dinner", or, "is Melanie staying for dinner", they just set a place at the table.  Susie's mom Jeanne was a charming, pretty woman who hailed from Chapel Hill, NC.  Even when she was being stern, her melodic Southen drawl made it hard to take her seriously.  Yes, I remember eating a lot of dinners in the 'White house', but, what I most remember is her chess pie, a family recipe passed on to Jeanne by her Aunt Sally:

IMG_3876A sweet, silky, rich, eggy custard pie with a slightly tangy flavor.

IMG_3808A bit about chess pie:  Recipes for this pie were brought to the American colonies from England. So, while chess pie is always associated with Southern cuisine, it also has valid claims to roots in New England as well as Virginia. It's a single crust pie, and, while every recipe varies somewhat, the filling always contains eggs and/or egg yolks, butter, granulated sugar and/or brown sugar, milk and/or buttermilk, and, most importantly, yellow cornmeal.  Common flavorings to the pie are lemon and/or vanilla, and, sometimes even a touch of bourbon.  It is a very sweet and very rich pie and is usually served in small, thin wedges with coffee or tea.

6a0120a8551282970b019affe3adad970cHistorians agree the name of the pie has nothing to do with the game of chess.  One theory is:  it evolved from ancestral England where pies of the same curd-like consistency were called "cheese pies", even though they contained no cheese.  In the colonies, over time, the word was slanged to "ches' pie".  There is also a story about a Southern homemaker, drawling to her husband when he asked what it was he was eating, "It's jus' pie".  This last one, and the one that makes perfect sense to me is: the name "chess" comes from a piece of furniture common to the period, a pie chest, with the name of the pie originally being "chest pie"...

... because this pie held up so well in a pie chest.

IMG_3793Back in 2010, I reconnected with Susie via Facebook.  I wanted my family to experience real-deal chess pie (not just a recipe I found in a book).  I asked Sue if she had her mother's recipe or a family recipe she'd be willing to share.  Sue e-mailed me two:  Aunt Sally's (the recipe Jeanne usually made), and, Aunt Jeannie's (Jeanne's Aunt Jeannie's). Both contained sugar, milk and melted butter in slightly different proportions.  Aunt Sally used whole eggs, while Aunt Jeannie used egg yolks.  After making both recipes, I made a version that contained Sally's whole eggs and Jeannie's egg yolks, plus bit of Mel:  lemon and vanilla extracts -- what a delicious result!

IMG_37531  unbaked 9" pie pastry

3  large eggs, at room temperature

3  large egg yolks, at room temperature

1  cup sugar

2  tablespoons yellow cornmeal

1/2  cup salted butter (1 stick), melted and cooled for about 15 minutes

3/4  cup milk or buttermilk (Note:  buttermilk will add a tangy flavor to the pie, and, I use buttermilk when I make this pie.)

1  teaspoon pure lemon extract

2  teaspoons pure vanilla extract

  IMG_3728 6a0120a8551282970b019affe99209970c 6a0120a8551282970b019affe99209970c 6a0120a8551282970b019affe99209970c~Step 1.  You'll need a 9" pie pastry.  You can find my recipe for ~ Making Pate Brisee:  Basic Pie or Quiche Pastry ~ in Categories 6, 15 & 22.  Roll it, trim it, and, pat and press it into a 9" pie dish as directed.  To make a checkerboard border on a pie crust (a technique I learned from James McNair's Pie Cookbook):  Using a sharp paring knife, cut across the rim at approximately 1/2" intervals to form 48 "flaps".  You can make them larger than 1/2" if you want, just count them to be sure you have an even number (not an odd number).  Alternately, fold every other "flap" upwards and tilt it slightly towards the center.  Place the pie crust in the refrigerator to chill at least 30 minutes.  In the meantime,  prepare the pie filling as follows:

6a0120a8551282970b019affea822b970d 6a0120a8551282970b019affea822b970d~ Step 2.  In a large bowl, on medium speed of hand-held electric mixer, combine the eggs with the egg yolks, about 15 seconds.  Add the sugar, cornmeal and melted butter.  Increase mixer speed to medium high and beat thoroughly, until thickened and light in color, 30-45 seconds.

IMG_3770~ Step 3.  Add the extracts to the milk (or buttermilk) and pour them into the bowl.  

With mixer on medium high speed, thoroughly beat and combine, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula almost constantly, about 30-45 seconds. 


~ Step 4.  Pour filling into chilled pie shell.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven, about 45 minutes, or until filling is puffed through to the center and a cake tester inserted into center comes out clean. Transfer to a rack and cool to room temperature, about 3-4 hours, prior to slicing and serving:

Note:  During the last 15-20 minutes of baking, if the pie begins to get too brown, cover it with a "domed" piece of aluminum foil ("not touching the surface of the pie").

IMG_3797My Southern Favorite:  Jeanne White's Chess Pie:  Recipe yields 1, 9" pie/8-10 servings.

Special Equipment List:  9" pie dish, preferably glass; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; cake tester or toothpick

IMG_3572Cook's Note:  Would you like a classic Southern meal to serve with this Southern dessert?  I suggest you try my recipes for ~ Smothered with Love: Pork Chops w/Onion Gravy ~, and, ~ Lovin' Spoonful: Buttermilk & Cheddar Spoonbread ~.  You can get both recipes by clicking on the Related Article links below.

Southern comfort food (cooked by a Yankee girl) never tasted so good!!!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2013) 


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