There are a number of colorful stories about how Chess Pie came to be called that, but however it was named, it remains a quintessential Southern dessert.
One story is that gentlemen were served this sweet pie when they left the table to play chess. Another tale says the name derived from Southerners’ dialect: It’s jes’ pie (it’s just pie). Yet another story is that the dessert is so high in sugar that it kept well in pie chests, also called pie safes, at room temperature and was therefore called “chest pie.” Pronouncing that with a Southern drawl sounds like chess pie. One more possibility: a lemony version of the pie was close to the traditional English lemon curd pie, often called “cheese” pie, and chess pie became its American name.
Chess pie always contains flour, butter, sugar, and eggs and the unusual addition of cornmeal. The South was at one time agrarian, and a farm woman had to cook with what was there. Various other ingredients can be added for flavor, as in the recipe here which calls for lemon juice. Or add a dash of nutmeg, ginger, or cinnamon. Sprinkle in some flaked coconut or toasted chopped pecans. Some believe a splash of buttermilk makes chess pie better; others swear by a tablespoon of vinegar, which is called vinegar pie. You can even add cocoa for the chocolate lovers.
Lemon Chess Pie
2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon fine yellow cornmeal
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons grated lemon rind
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice with pulp
1 (9-inch) unbaked pie shell
1 cup heavy cream, whipped
In a large bowl combine the sugar, flour and cornmeal. Blend well, then add the eggs one at a time. Add milk, melted butter, lemon rind and juice. Pour filling into prepared crust . Foil strips may be used to cover the crust to avoid burning. Bake at 375 degrees F for 45 minutes, removing the foil after 30 minutes. Serve at room temperature.