Even though the turkey gets all the attention on Thanksgiving, we all know that the pies are the real star of the meal. No matter where you live or celebrate the holiday, it’s likely that there will be at least one of the classics—apple, pumpkin, pecan—on the dessert table. But if you’re in the South, there’s another even more popular option: chess pie.
Desserts don’t get much more basic, or Southern, than this old-fashioned pie. The filling, made with basic pantry staples, is stirred together in a single bowl and baked in a traditional pastry crust. You can top slices with whipped cream, but otherwise, chess pie is typically eaten as-is. It’s gooey, buttery, rich, and will satisfy the most powerful sweet tooth. It may not be fancy, but it sure is good.
What Is Chess Pie?
This dessert is likely the result of cooks using the limited ingredients they had on hand. The most basic recipes call for a filling made with sugar, butter, eggs, cornmeal, and a little vinegar (to balance out the sweetness). From there, you can add extras like vanilla extract, lemon zest, and spices, or keep it as-is. The pie crust is made of traditional pastry—you can make your own dough or save time with a store-bought pie crust.
No one knows for sure how the pie got its name, but some food historians believe it evolved from “cheese pies” made with custard and cheese curds by English and early American colonists. There are also stories of a Southern cook being asked what she was baking. Her reply? “It’s ‘jes pie.”
How Do You Make Chess Pie?
It’s as simple as stirring together the filling ingredients in a single bowl, pouring that mixture into a par-baked pie crust, and baking the pie until golden brown. This is a great option for new bakers, or if you are pressed for time, or don’t have a ton of ingredients in the pantry.
Is Chess Pie The Same As Buttermilk Pie?
In a word, no. These two pies may look identical and share many of the same ingredients, but there are some key differences. Buttermilk pie has a dairy-based filling that is tangier than chess pie thanks to the buttermilk and fresh lemon juice and zest. Flour is the most common thickening agent in buttermilk pies, while chess pies use cornmeal.
Can You Add Other Flavors To Chess Pie?
Yes! Chess pie may be very sweet, but it doesn’t have a dominant flavor.
Lemon Chess Pies are one of the most popular variations because the citrus adds a welcome note of brightness. Cranberry and orange also work well too, as you’ll see in the stunning pie shown above. Chocolate-Pecan Chess Pie or an Apple Chess Pie to combine two Thanksgiving favorites into one amazing dessert.