Add some Old South to your Thanksgiving with this popular pie
Chess pie is a decidedly Southern dessert, with the first records of the creamy confection appearing in cookbooks dating from the 17th century.
The origin of the name is undecided, but there are plenty of guesses and a bit of folklore surrounding it, according to culinary resource What’s Cooking America.
The most probable explanation is that English lemon curd pie filling is very close to lemon chess pie, and the word “chess” is an Americanization of the English word “cheese,” referring to curd pie, according to the publication.
Another theory posits that the original English version of this pie began in Chester, England.
Through research, Lisa Donovan, a pastry chef and James Beard Award-winning food writer, made an intriguing case for another theory in a 2018 article she wrote for the Washington Post: “Chess pie gets its name from chestnut meal, which was used in olden days in place of cornmeal.”
A simple custard filling defines this pie. Flavors range from plain to chocolate, coconut, lemon or any of a multitude of fruits or nuts. Pecan pie is a version. If you want to add some “Old South” to your Thanksgiving, try this Cranberry Chess Pie.
Cranberry Chess Pie
1 rolled out basic pie dough or a frozen store bought equivalent
11⁄3 cup granulated sugar
1⁄2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1⁄8 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1⁄4 cup all-purpose flour
1⁄3 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
2 teaspoons orange zest
2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries, coarsely chopped
Roll out dough and place in a round 9-inch pan. Refrigerate or freeze the pie shell until firm, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, place an oven rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 275 F.
Partially bake the pie shell, about 20-30 minutes until dough is pale gold.
In a bowl, whisk together the sugar, melted butter and salt. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until smooth after each addition. Stir in the flour, then buttermilk, vinegar and orange zest, mixing well. Stir in the cranberries. Scrap filling into crust.
Bake pie until top is a light golden brown and the filling is firm, about 50-60 minutes. Transfer to cooling rack. Serve at room temperature.
Phil Newton is a Galveston baker/cook. He’s the owner/operator of Stiglich Corner with partner Cindy Roberts.