“Truth is ever to be found in simplicity, and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things”Isaac Newton
The three greatest things to ever come out of the American South are jazz music, bourbon whiskey, and chess pie.
I’d even entertain an argument that I’m wrong about jazz and bourbon.
Chess pie is the pie that every other pie, nay, every other dessert wants to be. It’s sweet, it’s smooth, it’s straightforward, and it’s so simple that you can probably make it with what’s already in your pantry.
Now, the name is a little curious. No one is quite sure where the name “chess pie” comes from. One theory is that it comes from “chest pie”, as in a pie that could keep well in a pie chest because of how much sugar is in it.
Another is that it derives from the English lemon curd or “cheese pie”, which it resembles.
Here in the South, in the absence of truth, one always defaults to the most interesting explanation for anything, and the most interesting explanation for chess pie (and the one to which I subscribe) is that the name is simply a phonetic spelling of a Southerner saying “just pie”.
As in, “Hey Lester, what kinda pie’s that you eatin on over there?”
“Well, I reckon it’s jes’ pie.”
And that’s exactly what it is. It’s just pie. It’s like a pecan pie… without the pecans. It’s like a chocolate pie… without the chocolate. It’s like a chicken pot pie without the… well ok not quite.
It’s got everything in it needed to make a delicious dessert pie, and that’s it. That’s where it stops. No need to put a hat on a hat. And my friends, I have found the best darn recipe for chess pie you’ll ever eat.
This recipe comes from my Granny’s old cookbook collection. When she passed on into the great by-and-by, I inherited her whole shelf of recipe books stuffed full of notecards and paper scraps with recipes dating back to the Hoover administration. Contained within them are many recipes for chess pies, but in Cooking Across the South the recipe is specifically titled “Nashville Chess Pie”. I may be a bit biased, but how am I supposed to pass that up?
I ran into the kitchen and whipped this up, and once I tasted it I figured I might as well throw out every other chess pie recipe I came across. By golly, this pie is damn near perfection.
Butter, sugar, cornmeal, vinegar, vanilla, eggs. Mix ’em up, put ’em in a crust, and bake. I told you it was simple.
I used some locally milled cornmeal that was a gift from my mother-in-law. The more local your cornmeal, the better. I also chose to use apple cider vinegar, but any old vinegar ought to do just fine.
You want to make sure your butter is softened to room temperature before you try to cream it together with the sugar. I used a Kitchenaid stand mixer with the flex edge beater attachment, but a hand mixer would work, as would a spatula and some good old-fashioned elbow grease. (Probably not a bad idea to burn a few calories, considering you’re about to eat forkfuls of sugar and butter.)
Your mixture will be light and fluffy, and you’ll want to use a rubber spatula to get all the goodness out of the mixing bowl and into the crust, then use that spatula to even out your mixture all the way to the edges.
Start your pie at 425 for 10 minutes to get that nice chess pie crust across the top, then let it finish at 375 for about 25 minutes. Let it cool at least 30-45 minutes after it finishes baking.
You could top this pie with a little whipped cream or some fruit, but there’s no need! All you’re gonna need is a fork to eat it, a little coffee or milk to wash it down, and a nap afterwards. Enjoy!
Nashville Chess Pie
A sweet Southern tradition that's simple to whip up and sure to please!
- 1/2 cup butter, softened
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1 tsp cornmeal
- 1 tsp vinegar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 3 eggs
- 1 unbaked 9″ pie shell
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F
2. Cream together butter and sugar in medium mixing bowl until light and fluffy
3. Add cornmeal, vinegar, and vanilla, mixing well
4. Beat in eggs, one at a time
5. Pour mixture into pie shell
6. Bake at 425 degrees F for 10 minutes, reduce heat to 375 degrees F and bake an additional 25 minutes or until pastry is crisp
This pie will keep for a couple days on the counter or in the fridge (although it’s usually long gone before you need to worry about that.)
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Keep on cookin’!