According to Wikipedia, “Chess pie is a dessert characteristic of Southern U.S. cuisine. Recipes vary, but are generally similar in that they call for the preparation of a single crust and a filling composed of eggs, butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla. What sets chess pie apart from many other custard pies is the substitution of corn meal for flour. Some recipes also call for corn syrup, which tends to create a more gelatinous consistency. The pie is then baked. The resulting pie is very sweet and often consumed with coffee in order to offset this…” The addition of lemon to the recipe helps the sweetness issue quite a bit, and lends a very pleasing overall tartness to the dessert.
The origin of the name is somewhat unclear, although folklore suggests that when asked by her husband what kind of dessert she was making, a Southern housewife answered “jes’ pie.” I rather like that explanation, myself.
This was my mother’s hands-down favorite pie and began making an appearance on her holiday table the last ten or so years of her life. After I moved up north, I realized I hadn’t had one since Mom passed away, and began searching for a recipe that she would have liked. What I eventually came up with is something she would have loved. To me, it tastes like home.
Lemon Chess Pie
1 unbaked 9″ pie shell
2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon cornmeal
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
2 teaspoons lemon zest, grated
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (about 1 large lemon)
1/4 cup milk
4 large eggs
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Whisk together the sugar, flour, cornmeal and salt. Add the melted butter, zest, lemon juice and milk; mix well. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Pour filling into the unbaked pie shell and bake until the top is a crisp, golden brown, about 45 to 50 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack before serving.